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Lake Ontario & St. Lawrence River water level plan ready for Washington

Julia Botero
Fish guide Jeff Garnzee wants to the river preserved for his children and grandchildren. He supports Plan 2014.

Local politicians, environmentalists and business owners gathered in Clayton Wednesday to urge Washington, D.C. to adopt a new plan to manage water levels on the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario.

The current plan is 55 years old. This new one promises to restore wetlands and wildlife to the waterways while also extending the boating season. But the issue has been debated for over a decade.

To understand what this new plan hopes to fix, imagine this: If the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario were countries and they were ruled by a king, that king would be the Moses-Saunders Power Dam.

It's the huge dam that straddles the St. Lawrence River between the U.S. and Canada. It controls the water levels in the river and the lake. But that king must obey a 55-year-old international treaty. The treaty prevents the water's natural highs and lows in order to protect homes and businesses along the shoreline from storm surges.  

But this old treaty didn't consider what static water levels would do to fish and wildlife.

Jeff Garnzee is a fishing guide who grew up on Grindstone Island. He left the area in 1983 and when he returned in 2009, he says the waterway and the fish looked different.

"It was like comparing too snapshots," Garnzee said. "Flynn's Bay used to be wide open and it was like somebody took a dump truck and filled it with silt and vegetation and the spawners who used to come through here are pretty much blocked off."

For the past 15 years, a group called the International Joint Commission has been writing up a new treaty for the king. They say its better for the environment to allow water levels to rise and fall, depending on the season. The treaty is called Plan 2014. It will restore more than 60,000 acres of wetlands.

But residents on the south shore of Lake Ontario like the water the way it is. This new plan could cause more erosion, and the shoreline may be vulnerable to storm surges.

In the North Country there is near-universal support for Plan 2014. That's why regional leaders held a press conference at Thousand Islands Harbor Hotel in Clayton.

Norma Zimmer is mayor of the village of Clayton. 

"It's not perfect,but a good plan that has been implemented is better than the one that is never going to happen because its not perfect," Zimmer said. "You are never going to please everyone, so I think we need to focus on what we have for Plan 2014."

Plan 2014 has strong local support. What the plan needs now is final approval from Secretary of State John Kerry and officials in Canada. Local leaders say they are ready to help with the final push.