Corwin: Lake Ontario high waters ‘an extremely significant event’

Audio: Jane Cowin Interview

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - The new head of the American section of the International Joint Commission (IJC) says this year’s high water on Lake Ontario is “an extremely significant event.”

She does not blame Plan 2014, the IJC regulations which govern how water levels are to be maintained on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, and which interests get top priority.

Jane Corwin was confirmed by the U.S. Senate, along with two other people, two weeks ago. Corwin and other members of the IJC toured the southern shoreline of Lake Ontario near Rochester Tuesday. (The IJC is responsible for water levels on the lake and river.)

Afterwards, she spoke by phone with 7 News reporter Scott Atkinson. Click on the picture above this post to listen to the conversation, or read the transcript below.

Atkinson: So, what did you see?

Corwin: There was a lot of devastation out there today, a lot of homes with water, crashing into breakwalls, flooding, a lot of impassable roads. It’s quite difficult there in the Rochester area.

Atkinson: A lot of people here blame Plan 2014. Is that a fair conclusion to reach?

Corwin: I can understand why people would blame it because when the report came out and the plan was implemented, it said there would be some flooding - and four months later there was a massive flood in 2017. What people may not recognise though, is there’s also been an excessive amount of water in the system this year, as well as 2017. When you take all the snow pack melting, when you take all the precipitation, when you take the upper Great Lakes filtering down through, Lake Ontario is being high, there are a lot of contributing factors. Certainly it’s a very difficult situation and even eliminating Plan 2014 today wouldn’t fix what’s happening right now.What I’m focused on is looking at the weather patterns we have today and going forward - is this the new norm? Is this just an isolated incident? - and based on what we find, what’s the right plan going forward. So that’s where I’m looking to put resources to examine those issues. Is this something we’re going to expect in the years to come?

Atkinson: You had said before you were confirmed that you were open to the idea of revisiting 2014; in fact, you thought it would be a good idea. Do you still think that?

Corwin: I do, I do. I think it’s important to keep an open mind, at this point. Like I said, the weather has been very severe the last couple of years, and that’s a very significant determining factor on what the lake levels are, so we need to know, we need to better understand what we’re going to have coming down the line so we can have a good plan. Is it a modification of 2014, perhaps; maybe we’ll find out Plan 2014 is an effective plan going forward. I don’t know about that, but we need to keep an open mind at this point and just figure out what’s going on.

Atkinson: Right now, is there anything more that the IJC can be doing to make things better?

Corwin: At this point, the Lake Ontario - St. Lawrence River board, who mans the dam - they have the authority at these high water levels to open the dam as much as possible, as much as they can at their discretion, given the other conditions in the system. And they are doing that, and they’re doing it very well. There is a lot of flooding in Montreal; it started off the Ottawa River and so Montreal is experiencing very, very high water levels. Those water levels would go down if not for the fact that we have opened the gates on Lake Ontario to try to help the people of Lake Ontario. So it’s a real balancing act between Lake Ontario and Montreal. They’re both flooding, they’re both facing serious challenges and I think the board is doing a very good job of managing both places. So at this point, eveything that can be done is being done.

Atkinson: When you see it, are you surprised by what the water’s doing?

Corwin: I’ll tell you, honestly Scott, I’ve lived in western New York my whole life and I’ve never seen Lake Ontario the way it is. I’ve never seen the waves crashing on the shoreline the way they are right now. This is no doubt an extremely significant event, weather-wise. Lake Ontario has flooded in the past: I think the last big one was in 1993, and there was another big one in the mid-70s. I’ve never seen anything like this.

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