March 01, 2019

Schumer, Gillibrand Call On International Joint Commission And International Lake Ontario-st. Lawrence River Board To Take All Available Actions Now, Including Maximizing Moses-saunders Dam Outflows, To Mitigate Lake Flood Risk

Rising Lake Ontario Water Levels, Additional Precipitation & Snowmelt Intensify Concern For Flooding Along Shore; Lake Ontario & St. Lawrence River Communities Still Recovering From Devastating 2017 Floods; Schumer, Gillibrand Today Call On The International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board Of Control To Expediently Implement Flooding Mitigation Measures, Including Appropriately Maximizing Outflows At Moses-Saunders Dam; Schumer, Gillibrand To IJC: You Must Do Everything Possible To Prevent

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today called on the International Joint Commission (IJC) and the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board of Control to assess and take all actions possible to mitigate flood risks to Lake Ontario & St. Lawrence River communities. Schumer and Gillibrand explained that Lake Ontario’s water levels have risen 6 inches over the past month, and the lake is currently 15 inches above the normal average for this time of the year, raising concerns of repeat flooding that plagued the region in 2017. Specifically, Schumer and Gillibrand called on the IJC and Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board of Control to appropriately maximize outflows at the Moses-Saunders dam, and any other reasonable actions that might prevent future flooding.

“After experiencing record flooding in 2017, Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River communities are once again being threatened with rising water levels – so it is critical for the IJC to do all they can now to prevent flooding in all potentially impacted communities,” said Senator Schumer. “That’s why today I’m urging the IJC and the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board of Control to expediently take all actions possible to mitigate the risk of future flooding in these communities. With the risk of future flooding rising, we must act now to prevent a repeat of 2017.” 

“Two years ago, we saw just how devastating flooding from Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River can be to the homes, businesses, and infrastructure along the lake’s and river’s shoreline. Communities need to be protected against this type of severe flooding. With water levels in Lake Ontario reaching such high levels at this time of the year, we need to do everything we can to mitigate future flood risk ahead of time,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I am calling on the IJC and the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board of Control to take the necessary steps to prepare our communities from flood damage, and I will continue to work to make sure that they have the resources they need.”  

Schumer and Gillibrand explained that over the past 60 years Lake Ontario water levels have only been as high as they currently are in prior Februaries five times, and that in two of those years – 1973 and 1993 – serious flooding occurred in the spring. The senators explained that above average precipitation, combined with seasonal snowmelt, has increased water levels in lakes, streams and rivers across the Great Lakes, including the Lake Ontario Watershed in New York. Schumer and Gillibrand stated that the significant increase in water levels compounded with this week’s recent wind storm, resulting in tens of thousands of power outages and significant damages, has once again brought the imminent risk of flooding to the fore. 

Schumer and Gillibrand explained that in 2017, many communities along the southern shore of Lake Ontario suffered significant flooding and related property damage, economic dislocation and significant negative impacts to quality of life. The senators played a paramount role in securing aid for these communities, including pushing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to issue a major disaster declaration for Cayuga, Monroe, Jefferson, Niagara, Orleans, Oswego, St. Lawrence and Wayne Counties and arranged for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deploy two expert federal mitigation teams to Lake Ontario communities to help address the flooding issues. The senators explained that while the federal aid did provide Lake Ontario communities with relief at the time, immediate action from the IJC and International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board of Control is critical to protect these communities this year.

According to Schumer and Gillibrand, Criterion H14 of Plan 2014 authorizes the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board to deviate from Plan 2014 when water levels triggers are reached. Specifically, the provision enables the Board to “provide all possible relief to riparian owners upstream and downstream” of the Moses-Saunders Dam near Massena, NY when lake levels reach prescribed “trigger threshold” levels that are calculated for roughly every week. The senators said that while outflows from the Moses-Saunders dam can only provide a degree of control over Lake Ontario water levels, and less so in periods of unusually high precipitation, this trigger will enable the Board to take actions such as optimally maximizing outflows at the dam. Therefore, Schumer and Gillibrand asked the IJC and the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board to use its authority under Criterion H14 to address these concerns.

Below is the senators’ letter to the IJC:

Dear IJC Chair Pollack,  

We write to urge the International Joint Commission (IJC) and the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board of Control to assess and take all actions possible to mitigate flood risks to Lake Ontario & St. Lawrence River communities, including maximum possible outflows that can be safely released at the Moses-Saunders dam and any other reasonable actions that mitigate flood risk. As you know, in 2017, many communities along the southern shore of Lake Ontario suffered significant flooding and related property damage, economic dislocation and significant negative impacts to quality of life. While we played a significant role in securing federal resources to help communities recover from the 2017 events, it is imperative that the IJC act with clarity, balance and purpose to do all it can to prevent this from happening again.

Water levels on Lake Ontario are up 6 inches from last month and 15 inches above the normal average for this time of year, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. Over the past 60 years, the lake has been this high in mid-February only five times — and in two of those years, 1973 and 1993, serious flooding occurred in the spring, according to reports. Above average precipitation, combined with seasonal snowmelt, has increased water levels in lakes, streams, and rivers across the Great Lakes, including the Lake Ontario Watershed in New York. The significant increase in water levels compounded with this week’s recent wind storm, resulting in tens of thousands of power outages, and significant damages, has once again brought the imminent risk of flood to the fore. As we approach spring and flows into the lake continue to rise, we ask that you do everything possible under your authorities to prevent devastating flooding and protect local communities from future events.  

As you know, Criterion H14 of Plan 2014 authorizes the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board to deviate from Plan 2014 when water levels triggers are reached. Specifically, it enables the Board to “provide all possible relief to riparian owners upstream and downstream” of the Moses-Saunders Dam near Massena, NY when lake levels reach prescribed “trigger threshold” levels that are calculated for every quarter month of the year (essentially weekly). While outflows from the Moses-Saunders dam can only provide a degree of control over Lake Ontario water levels, and less so in periods of unusually high precipitation, this trigger will enable the Board to take actions such as increasing outflows at the dam. As such, we ask the IJC and the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board to use its authority under Criterion H14 to address these concerns. 

We appreciate your diligence in monitoring and acting in real time as conditions change on Lake Ontario and thank you in advance for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,