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Region’s municipal leaders creating joint statement to push for action on water levels and flooding

Quinte region municipal leaders at joint conference in Trenton, Tuesday morning.

Quinte region municipal leaders will create a single joint statement focused on concerns related to extremely high water levels in Lake Ontario and in particular, the International Joint Commission, (IJC) the body that controls those flows.

They also want immediate provincial and federal help for property owners to remediate and protect their land from current and future flooding.

Prince Edward County Mayor Steve Ferguson and mayors of Quinte West, Brighton, Belleville and Greater Napanee, Reeve of Tyendinaga, along with the Warden of Hastings County met Tuesday in Trenton.

The leaders want the IJC to stop Plan 2014 and to significantly lower water levels. Lake Ontario, at 21 inches higher than normal at this time of year, could signal even worse flooding in the spring of 2020.

It was noted Plan 2014 was designed to replenish wetlands and aid the Great Lakes shipping industry – and is a “man-made, not a climate change problem, or one created from higher than normal precipitation.”

Prince Edward County is the hardest hit in the region, with 500kms of shoreline. Belleville has 24kms and Quinte West 35 kms by comparison – but all the municpalities are concerned with protecting their infrastructure, public and private properties.

With more than 40 Ontario municipalities along the shore of Lake Ontario, and even more with watersheds that have been impacted; the repercussions of recent flooding have been felt across the province. The elected officials are calling on other municipalities to join together in a united effort to make a change.

“We are stronger together,” said Quinte West Mayor. “We need to stand up as a group and demand for immediate action to be taken.”

“The most frustrating thing about this was nobody appeared to be listening to our concerns,” said Ferguson. “There’s all kinds of scientific explanation as to why this is happening but our frustration was we couldn’t get out into a boat and pull a plug.”

Mayor Ferguson said the County is preparing for even worse flooding in 2020. He stated he fully supports the revocation of the IJC’s Plan 2014.

“Clearly, it’s not working. We experienced flooding in 2017 as a result of the implementation of this plan one year earlier. We experienced worse flooding this year, so it’s anybody’s guess what could happen next year, although we are preparing for, at least, similar circumstances.”

The municipal leaders seek a response from the IJC within two weeks.

“We have a considerable amount of planning to do as everybody at this table does,” said Ferguson. “Because if we are to go through another summer like this, it will continue to have a profound effect on our businesses, our residents and our economy as a whole.”

Together they identified five issues to improve the future outlook of the water situation in the Bay of Quinte region and beyond. They stated the International Joint Commission is refusing to take responsibility and that it needs to be held accountable.

They will request that the International Joint Commission revoke the Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River Plan 2014 and reinstate Plan 1958-DD.

They will request the International Joint Commission take immediate action to reduce water levels and keep them down.

They will lobby the provincial and federal governments to improve support to property owners and provide them with immediate assistance.

They will also request that the provincial and federal government allow municipalities and property owners to take extraordinary measures to protect their properties, such as the ability to build larger, more permanent retaining walls.

They will call for a response from the International Joint Commission within 14 days of receiving their requests.

Together, the mayors and warden agreed that the current water levels have caused overwhelming damage to local infrastructure, public safety and health. Individual municipalities are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars as a result of flooding, not including the devastating impacts on tourism and economic development.

Ferguson is also updating residents on his Facebook account, last night posting an email he received from the IJC with “some encouraging news”, but states “pressure will continue to be exerted on the commission by the County and its neighbouring muncipalities to fully analyze Plan 2014.”

That email:
Dear Mayor Ferguson and Prince Edward County Council,

Thank you for providing us with a copy of the resolution passed by the Prince Edward County Council on June 25th, 2019 and stating concerns regarding the regulation of Lake Ontario outflows.

The Commission and its International Lake Ontario St. Lawrence River Board (the Board) are acutely aware of the tremendous harm to shoreline properties and local economies on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River resulting from the unprecedented conditions this year. The Board has regulated Lake Ontario outflows to reduce high-water impacts on the lake and river from Lake Ontario to the extent possible, while considering consequences for all affected interests. Outflows from June 13 to August 21 were the highest sustained outflows on record and continue to be as high as conditions on the St. Lawrence River allow. The Board manages outflows from Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River levels in the context of many interests including safe navigation, and the need to avoid causing ice jams or exposing municipal water intakes on the St. Lawrence River.

This past year has been unprecedented and the facts bear this out. All of the Great Lakes have reached record or near-record high water levels this spring as a result of heavy precipitation throughout the basin. This has resulted in record high inflows from Lake Erie into Lake Ontario and above-average runoff from within the Lake Ontario basin. The highest ever supplies into Lake Ontario were recorded in the six months from February to July 2019. These inputs, combined with record outflows from the Ottawa River into the St. Lawrence River, have caused record high water levels both upstream and downstream of the Moses-Saunders Dam. In consideration of the current naturally high water conditions upstream and downstream of the dam, the Board is working tirelessly to maximize Lake Ontario outflows to reduce high water levels there and in the St. Lawrence River. The Board has consistently passed very high flows from Lake Ontario since the spring of 2017 and between June 13th and August 21st this year; they were the highest sustained Lake Ontario outflows on record.

Plan 2014 is the current regulation plan used by the Board to manage Lake Ontario outflows at the Moses-Saunders dam. The dam is the sole control point of outflows into the St. Lawrence River, and although it can be operated to manage many conditions, it cannot fully address all consequences of the record natural inflows experienced this year. The record high water events that occurred in 2017 and 2019 would have occurred under any regulation plan.

Plan 2014 replaced the previous regulation Plan 1958-DD which would have acted very similarly to the current plan in the conditions received in 2017 and 2019. Without regulation of outflows at the Moses-Saunders dam, modelling has shown that 2019 water levels would have been exceeded by 40cm. Further information on Plan 2014 can be found here.

As a result of the sustained record-high outflows and drier weather, Lake Ontario continues to decline from its June 2019 peak. The Commission has requested that the Board investigate alternative regulation options for further reducing levels prior to next spring to reduce the risk of flooding in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River in 2020. While we anticipate that each of the options will likely cause impacts in the St. Lawrence River and provide only limited reduction in the risk to Lake Ontario, the Commission is committed to providing all possible relief to riparians upstream and downstream consistent with the Order of Approval that was approved by the Governments of the United States and Canada.

The Commission has also asked its Great Lakes Adaptive Management (GLAM) Committee to expedite their ongoing review of Plan 2014, and investigate possible modifications to the Plan that may provide additional relief to shoreline communities. Because of the risk of ongoing extreme variability in the future, the Commission also believes that building greater long-term infrastructure, housing and floodplain resiliency and enhancing flood protection measures will be essential to successfully minimizing the impacts of future extreme floods.

Over the past several months, Commissioners have visited many communities along the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River shoreline on both sides of the border to meet with locals and witness the effects that the high waters have had on their lives. The IJC, the Board and GLAM are currently organizing a webinar for elected officials in early November to explain 2019 conditions and regulation, describe the actions taken to reduce lake levels in advance of the 2020 freshet, and answer questions and concerns that attendees might have. More information on this will be available on our website and advertised through social media soon.

Sincerely,
Jane Corwin, Pierre Béland
Chair, Chair
US Section Canadian Section

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  1. LB says:

    A very big thank you to the Quinte region municipal leaders for their diligent pursuit of answers and change. The letter from the Chairs still puts the blame for the high water inflows squarely on natural causes (precipitation and the ensuing run-off). So for the last 3 years, the precipitation each year has been so great and abnormally high that it collectively flooded all the Great Lakes and smashed through the 100 year flood level marks? The Commission also points out that “because of “the risk of ongoing extreme variability in the future”, comprehensive changes will need to be made going forward to minimize flooding impacts. Ongoing? Extreme variability? That’s a pretty dire outlook.

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