With high waters possible, feds say yes to more water out at Massena

With high waters possible, feds say yes to more water out at Massena
The International Joint Commission controls the flow of water through dams in Massena. (Source: WWNY)

MASSENA, N.Y. (WWNY) - If too much water is dumped into Lake Ontario this winter, more water than normal can be sent downriver through the Moses-Saunders Dam in Massena.

The International Joint Commission, (IJC) which oversees water levels on the Great Lakes, gave the International Lake Ontario - St. Lawrence River Board permission Friday to release extra water through the dam.

The IJC said in a statement that it made the decision because of “persistent high-water levels on Lake Erie and the upper Great Lakes.”

Water flows east from Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes to Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Releasing more water at the dam in Massena lowers the water level on Lake Ontario, but can cause flooding further downriver, including Montreal.

Right now, Lake Ontario levels are just above average for this time of year.

Technically, what the IJC is allowing the River Board to do is deviate from “Plan 2014,” which sets limits on how much water can be discharged through the Massena dam.

Plan 2014 is widely blamed by property owners along Lake Ontario for the catastrophic flooding of 2017 and 2019, but the IJC made it clear in its statement Friday that it continues to believe nature - not the plan - is to blame.

“There remains considerable uncertainty in the weather and water supply conditions between now and next spring. These natural, uncontrolled hydrologic factors are the primary driver of water level fluctuations on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.

“If basin conditions are extremely wet, and similar to those observed in 2017 and 2019, no deviation strategy will prevent water levels that can cause flooding and damage shoreline properties.

“Providing those types of benefits are beyond the reach of water regulation and are more reliably addressed through coastal resilience and planning.”

New York State has spent millions of dollars since 2017 protecting the shoreline of Ontario.

The River Board has permission to release extra water starting January 1, and continuing through the end of February.

Assemblyman Mark Walczyk, who represents the shoreline of Lake Ontario in Jefferson County and communities along the St. Lawrence River up to Massena, called the announcement “excellent news.”

“This proves to me the IJC is listening,” he said.

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