Seaway to open April 1, as high water ‘outflows’ to continue

News Analysis

Seaway to open April 1, as high water ‘outflows’ to continue
The International Joint Commission controls the flow of water through dams in Massena. (Source: WWNY)

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - The groups in charge of regulating water levels on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River apparently plan to keep pushing vast amounts of water out of Lake Ontario through the month of March.

The International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board met Friday and took action, but has yet to say what, exactly, it decided on.

But in a statement Tuesday night, the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation and the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (the groups responsible for shipping along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence) said the Seaway will open April 1 this year, because “the majority of benefits of lowering Lake Ontario levels by maintaining outflows above those safe for navigation in the Montreal / Lake Ontario Section of the Seaway occur before April 1.”

An outflow not ‘safe for navigation’ is roughly 367,000 cubic feet of water per second being released through the dam in Massena.

In 2019, the Seaway opened in late March. A significant delay in starting the shipping season would cost millions of dollars, shippers have warned.

“After that date, (April 1) the benefits for lowering Lake Ontario by maintaining outflows above those safe for navigation are significantly reduced,” according to the Seaway statement.

Veteran Seaway watcher Michael Folsom pointed out Tuesday night that an April 1 opening date is really pretty consistent with years past.

In a FAQ on the season opening, the Seaway defended the April 1 open date this way: “delaying the opening of the Seaway by 12 days to April 1st is a difficult decision to communicate to our customers but we maintain that it is the reasonable thing to do under the current circumstances.”

The statement from the Seaway said a dry February and the record amount of water pushed out from Lake Ontario so far has reduced the odds of the lake flooding to 35 percent.

(Technical note: when we say April 1 is the date the Seaway opens, we’re talking about the Montreal-Lake Ontario section of the Seaway.)

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