‘Risk is mounting’ for 2020 St. Lawrence flooding; Ontario-New York shoreline groups band together

In this July 2018, file photo, a section of the St. Lawrence River looking west from the base of Brookdale Avenue in Cornwall, Ont. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

BROCKVILLE – With only months before a spring melt, the president of United Shoreline Ontario (USO) says her group is joining U.S. counterparts to lobby government officials to do something about high water levels on the St. Lawrence River.

During a conference call with reporters Thursday morning, Sarah Delicate says it’s very likely we will see a repeat of the flooding next year that happened in 2017 and 2019.

“We are very rapidly heading toward our third flood in four years,” Delicate said. “We are now almost 19 inches (48 centimeters) above the long term average heading into the freeze which will slow the water being released out of the dam. The risk is mounting.”

“This is not climate, this is policy. There are policy decisions that are being made by the international board that are unjustly and in a very unbalanced way transferring damage to the Lake Ontario shoreline and to the municipalities,” she said.

Delicate says the IJC’s own predictive models show there’s an 84 per cent chance of a wet or very wet spring. “We could see 250 feet on Lake Ontario, which is a foot higher than what we saw in 2019. Think of the catastrophic devastation you saw around the lake in 2019 and add an extra foot,” Delicate said.

The USO president says they don’t contest that climate change brought the water but how the International Joint Commission (IJC) handles the outflow of water is the real issue.

Delicate was joined by the New York State based Lake Ontario St. Lawrence River Alliance (LOSLRA) and a representative of Save our Sodus (SOS) – a group looking to protect Sodus Bay on Lake Ontario, east of Rochester, N.Y.

Water levels are being held high “for the benefit of shipping industry,” LOSLRA President Jim Shea said.

The “Join Forces, Fight Back Campaign” will be holding seven rallies, one of which will be in Brockville. Those are planned by the second week of February 2020 at a location in Brockville to be determined.

When asked by Newswatch about the municipal representation on the International Joint Commission, USO President Delicate says the message about the damage to the Eastern Ontario shoreline is not getting through because Eastern Ontario representation on the IJC is “grossly underrepresented.” Most of the board is from Montreal and the Canadian municipal representative is from Quebec.

She maintains that Plan 2014 is “extremely unbalanced,” in favour of saving Montreal for the sake of Ontario. “We are not advocating that you should just open up the door and flood out Montreal. There has to be balance but the problem is it’s not balanced now.”