ENVIRONMENT: [UPDATED] Meetings set on lake levels

Jim Howe. FILE PHOTO

BY JEREMY MOULE

UPDATE (Wednesday, June 6):

This morning, Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks released a statement outlining her opposition to a proposal for regulation of Lake Ontario water levels.

Brooks says she’s sending a letter to the International Joint Commission with her objections. She says the plan will cause millions of dollars in damages for property owners and recreational boaters. She also says that, in the past, the Monroe County Water Authority’s Edgemere pump station in Greece has required sandbag protection from high water levels.

“The fact that the IJC has not prepared adequately to avoid major damage for property owners and boaters or to make efforts to mitigate that damage is inexcusable,” Brooks says in the statement.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Balance is key when it comes to artificially raising and lowering Lake Ontario’s water levels.

For 50 years, the levels have been managed to favor shipping, hydropower, and lakeside property, while ignoring environmental concerns.

That would change under a new plan proposed by the International Joint Commission, which was formed via treaty between the US and Canada. The commission sets policies governing the water levels of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Seaway.

The IJC will hold two local informational meetings this week on the proposed plan. The first is at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 6, at Quest Elementary School’s auditorium, 225 West Avenue, Hilton. The second is at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 7, at Williamson High School’s auditorium, 5891 Route 21.

The current plan keeps Lake Ontario’s water levels relatively steady, though the lake naturally fluctuates. That stability has hurt coastal wetlands, which rely on variable water levels to maintain species diversity, says Jim Howe, executive director of the Nature Conservancy in Central and Western New York. The new plan calls for some variability, which would help the wetlands and let beaches and dunes rebuild, he says.

“I think the plan is, overall, a much more balanced plan than is already in place,” Howe says.

The Nature Conservancy is one of several prominent environmental groups backing the plan. But there is opposition from a group of lakeside property owners and some elected officials.

Dan Barletta, who is active with the Lake Ontario Riparian Alliance, says the plan would cost private and public property owners money. Barletta lives along the lake in Greece and says that erosion-preventing break walls along the lakeshore are designed with existing water levels in mind. The new plan’s upper-level target would leave homeowners susceptible to wave damage, he says.

This week’s public meetings are the beginning of a long process. Any new plan would need the approval of the US and Canadian governments before taking effect.

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