Lake Ontario flooding: War of words continues

Jun 20, 2017

The war of words between N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the International Joint Commission is continuing,  as residents along Lake Ontario deal with weeks of flooding.

In a letter to Cuomo, the IJC says flooding was triggered by heavy spring rains. And it rejects his suggestion that preventive counter-measures -- like releasing more water through a downstream dam -- should have been made.

The IJC controls outflows from the Moses-Saunders dam along the St. Lawrence River.

The letter dated June 16 notes that New York was gripped by a severe drought last year. "Water levels on Lake Ontario were actually slightly below the long-term average from May through the end of December 2016. ... Based on the conditions in the basin last year, the Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River Board found no justification to consider increased outflows at that time, as such action would have lowered lake levels even further below average.

"Weather cannot yet be reliably predicted for more than a few days into the future so the board must consider the risk of future conditions being extremely dry as well as the risk that they will be extremely wet."

The letter comes in response to Cuomo's claim that the IJC has mismanaged the situation, leading to flood-damaged homes and businesses in New York.

In a letter to the IJC and in public comments, Cuomo has accused the IJC of blunders such as failing to lower the level of Lake Ontario before the spring rains. 

Moses-Saunders dam
Credit Veronica Volk

"There's no doubt but that the IJC blew it. I mean, they blew it. I don't even see how you can debate that," he said in one news conference.

Cuomo spokeswoman Abbey Fashouer reiterated that position in a statement. "The facts are clear: The IJC had the ability to cnduct proper long-raneg forecasting and release more water from Lake Ontario before the April storms began. they failed to do both. ... We will continue to hold the IJC fully accountable."

Meanwhile, legislative leaders in Albany say they have reached agreement on a $90 million dollar package to help with flood recovery. It would include $15 million for residential property owners, $25 million for small businesses, farms and some other categories, and $25 million for municipalities.