Lake Ontario flooding -- and controversy -- haven't eased

Aug 10, 2017

Lake Ontario has dropped a foot since heavy spring rains swelled it to record levels. But it's still much higher than normal -- and that means the pain continues for homeowners and businesses along the shore.

So does the controversy over regulators who manage lake levels.

This week, the International Lake Ontario St. Lawrence River Board reduced outflows from a downstream dam along the St. Lawrence River. The board said the rushing water was causing problems. 

The water has almost been creating a slope from the Thousand Islands to the Moses-Saunders dam in Massena, N.Y., board member Tony David told North Country Public Radio.

David said the fast-flowing river caused dangerous boating conditions near the dam. "Currents are whipping around from side to side. And also there’s concern that if the water levels get too low, it could be a problem for municipalities with water intakes on the St. Lawrence River."

Officials in New York continued to criticize the board, which follows policies set by the International Joint Commission.

In a statement, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, the IJC "has demonstrated extreme disregard for New Yorkers by prioritizing shipping interests over the safety and security of people living along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Water levels remain at historic highs and it is senseless to reduce outflows at this time. This decision must be immediately reversed to protect our residents, businesses and communities along the shoreline."

Mayor Billy Barlow said Oswego, near the eastern end of the lake, faces millions of dollars in repairs. Flooding has damaged a storm sewer pump station, as well as the city marina and pier. Erosion has hit Breitbeck Park and the river walk.

"It’s pretty alarming and the level of damage is getting exponentially worse as the conditions stay the same -- a constant disaster, if you will," Barlow told WRVO. "It’s not like one storm comes and passes the water remains high."

Meanwhile, New York Sea Grant is working with Cornell University to gather data about the damage.

"Some areas have been inundated for months and other areas are experiencing a significant amount of erosion," Mary Austerman of New York Sea Grant told North Country Public Radio. 

More than 700 people have filled out online surveys along Lake Ontario, Austerman said. The surveys are available until Aug. 31.

Those surveys are separate from state efforts to gauge property damages and help pay for repairs.