File photo of large waves from Lake Ontario washing up on the shore near Rudy’s Lakeshore Drive-in on April 4, 2018, in Oswego, NY. (Michael Greenlar |

Senator Schumer to Army Corps: Lake Ontario communities can’t afford a repeat of 2017

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Buffalo District to stand ready to activate its Emergency Operations Center — under Public Law 84-99 Flood Control and Coastal Emergencies — and assist Lake Ontario communities in the event that Lake Ontario water levels continue rising to flood levels.

Schumer explained according to the USACE, Lake Ontario water levels have risen six inches over the last month and are forecast to rise another 11 inches as it continues to get warmer, placing residents of neighboring communities at a major risk of flooding.

Schumer said that Lake Ontario is now only a foot lower than it was this time in 2017 — at 246.93 feet — the year when the lake reached as high as 248.6 feet by June, which caused severe flooding across the coastline. Therefore, Schumer urged the Army Corps Buffalo District to prepare to mobilize any and all available resources via the activation of its Emergency Operations Center, should Lake Ontario water levels continue spiking, to protect surrounding communities from any preventable flooding damage in the future.

“After experiencing devastating record flooding in 2017, Lake Ontario communities are once again being threatened by rising water levels — so it is critical for the Army Corps of Engineer to get their ducks in a row now, before flooding happens, and stand ready to help,” said Schumer. “That’s why today I’m calling on the Army Corps Buffalo District to prepare to activate its Emergency Operations Center should water levels rise to a dangerous extent. With the risk of future flooding rising by the day, we must have all hands on deck.”

Schumer explained that over the past 60 years Lake Ontario water levels have only been as high as they were this February during prior Februaries on five occasions and that in two of those years — 1973 and 1993 — serious flooding occurred in the spring. Schumer 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 said that with the entire Great Lakes basin receiving above average precipitation (111 percent) over the past week and with it forecast to receive more precipitation in the coming days — particularly in Lake Ontario — flood conditions could change quickly, requiring a swift response.

Schumer has been pushing emergency preparation measures along Lake Ontario for months in this specific flooding season and for years beforehand. In March of this year, Schumer called on the International Joint Commission (IJC) and International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board of Control to assess and take all actions possible to mitigate flood risks to surrounding communities, including the appropriate maximization of outflows at the Moses-Saunders Dam. Additionally, later on in March, Schumer voiced his support for the confirmation of three nominees to the IJC, to ensure the Commission was appropriately staffed to address the rising Lake Ontario water levels.

Furthermore, Schumer explained, 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. Prior to the flooding, Schumer successfully called on the USACE to activate its Emergency Operations Center, allowing the USACE to assist New York state in response efforts and deploy technical assistance teams. Additionally, Schumer helped facilitate a “general permit”, signed by the USACE and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), to allow property owners, towns, villages and counties impacted by flooding to make emergency storm protection measures without going through the longer study and review permit process, like repairing or reinforcing break walls or other shorelines protection. Schumer also played a paramount role in securing aid for these communities in the wake of the flooding, including arranging 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 and successfully pushing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to issue a major disaster declaration, which enabled federal recovery and repair funding to flow to Jefferson, Niagara, Orleans, Oswego, St. Lawrence, Wayne, Cayuga, and Monroe Counties.

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