High water: Lake Ontario communities prepare for ‘worse-case scenario’
Communities along Lake Ontario’s southern and eastern shores are continuing in a “worst-case scenario” mode this week, piling up sandbags and taking other preventative measures in anticipation of flooding that could come as early as this weekend.
Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday that a recent meeting with the International Joint Commission about the lake’s high water levels was “unsatisfactory.” The governor remained critical of the bi-national agency’s handling of the situation and its Plan 2014 management plan for handling the lake’s water levels.
He also criticized the IJC’s failure to appoint former state Assemblywoman Jane Corwin to represent New York’s interests on the panel.
At this point, the lake level is at 27.74 feet, about 5 ½ inches below this date in 2017 when extensive flooding resulted soon after. As far as water releases at the Moses-Saunders Dam on the St. Lawrence River, which controls the lake’s water level, at 1 a.m. today it was increased to 7,000 cubic meters per second.
“It’s been ramping up gradually since April 26 when it was 5,600 cubic meters per second, said Frank Bevacqua, an IJC spokesman. “Yesterday it was 6,800 cubic meters per second.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is predicting that Lake Ontario could rise as much as 11 inches in the next month, according to a May 3 report.
Is that a certainty? Not really. It’s a best guess estimate based on several factors –the biggest being the amount of precipation in the Great Lakes, the Lake Ontario and the Ottawa River watersheds in the coming month, according to Andrew Kornacki, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Historical data of rainfall for this time of year is also considered.
The amount of rainfall in the Great Lakes and Lake Ontario watersheds will determine how much water will pour into the lake. Precipitation levels in the Ottawa River Watershed will play a big part in how much water can be released at the Moses-Saunders Dam on the St. Lawrence River so has not to further negatively affect the Canadian communities downstream (particularly Montreal,) which are already experiencing flooding.
Community leaders in the Lake Ontario shoreline communities are “doing everything right “ by preparing for the “worst-case” scenario, Kornacki said.
Fair Haven Mayor James Basile said the lake level appears to be “creeping up.”
“People here have been picking up sandbags all weekend, doing what they need to do to protect their property,” he said. “We’re also trying to get a list together of people aren’t physically able to pile sandbags so we can get them help.”
Over in the village of Sodus Point in Wayne County, Mayor David McDowell said “things are going well” in regard to preparations for flooding.
“We have state prisoners and the National Guard here today laying down sandbags,” he said.
Both mayors noted that as the water continues to rise, a prevailing northwest wind on lake the will push water against the south and eastern shorelines. The resulting high waves can raise the water level along the shore in those areas a foot or two.
“When that happens here, you’re get lots of erosion and flooding in people’s yards,” McDowell said.
Last weekend the governor said the state has supplied the eight counties along the southern shore with nearly 750,000 empty sandbags , nearly 47,000 filled sandbags, 14 sandbaggers, hundreds of pumps and 670 feet of aquadams -- with a promise of more if needed.
The New York National Guard also activated 100 members Sunday to support preparedness measures. In addition, a general permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation remains in effect to speed up repairs or to take preventative measures by shoreline property owners.
In regard to Cuomo’s criticism of the IJC, Bevacqua responded that Cuomo’s dissatisfaction with what he said was the IJC’s failure to appoint Corwin to the U.S./Canadian panel was misplaced.
“That decision will be taken by the U.S. Senate,” he said.
In addition, Bevacqua said, “it’s misleading (for the governor to say) that better management of the outflows (at the Moses-Saunders Dam) could have averted the high water conditions this year.”
Cuomo, in describing his meeting with the IJC, said “they listened, they were polite, but they didn’t commit to anything.”
He did say, though, that IJC officials are going to look into 24-hour monitoring of the lake, better communications with the state about the lake’s conditions and increasing the release of water, adding, “and they have made some small progress in that regard.”