Controversial plan for Lake Ontario approved

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A bi-national agency has adopted a controversial new plan to regulate water levels in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River: 16 years after it started developing it. And one federal representative is already vowing to fight it.

The International Joint Commission announced this afternoon that it approved Plan 2014, albeit an amended version.  The plan first needed approval from the executive branches of the US and Canadian governments, which it recently received. It lays out criteria for determining how much water passes through Moses-Saunders Dam, which bridges Cornwall, Ontario, and Massena, New York, between the lake and the river.

The plan allows for more variation in Lake Ontario water levels, which scientists as well as environmental, conservation, and sportsmen's groups say is crucial to restore degraded shoreline ecosystems and habitat. Coastal wetlands in particular will benefit, since the current plan, which was adopted in 1958, led to artificially high water levels. The high levels exacerbated erosion and encouraged the overgrowth of cattails in wetlands.

"This is such a big win for our region economically and environmentally," says Jim Howe, executive director of The Nature Conservancy of Central and Western New York.

But the plan is also controversial, largely among some residents on Lake Ontario's south shore, which includes the coastal parts of Monroe, Wayne, and Orleans counties. Residents and businesses along the shore, along with their elected representatives, vocally opposed the plan. They said it would allow for water levels that are too high and that could damage their property. But many of those residents are unhappy with water levels under the existing plan, too.

Republican House Representative Chris Collins tweeted that the plan is unacceptable and in a statement he vowed to do everything in his power to stop it, including blocking funding for implementation. But fellow Republican House Representative Elise Stefanik, whose district covers much of the North Country and who is considered by many a young, rising star in the New York GOP, supports the plan.



Before the US and Canadian governments adopted Plan 2014, they modified the extreme low-level threshold for water releases from the Moses-Saunders Dam. In other words, the lowest triggering water level in the modified plan is actually higher — meaning the water's deeper — than in the original plan. That shift may have benefits for the shipping industry and recreational boaters, within minimal effect on the plan's environmental benefits, Howe says.



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