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St. Lawrence River makes list of 10 most endangered U.S. rivers

Flickr, Creative Commons
Enviornmentalists and lawmakers say the Moses Saunders Dam is outdated and needs to change how it regulates water levels.

A non-profit says The St. Lawrence River is one of the 10 most endangered rivers in the country. American Rivers say the fish and wildlife of the St. Lawrence will remain in jeopardy until the U.S. and Canada approves a plan for controlling its water levels.

The Moses-Saunders Dam between Cornwall and Massena straddles the U.S.-Canada border. Since the dam was built in the 1950s its controlled the  water levels of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario.

Lee Willbanks, who directs the non-profit Save the River based in Clayton, says that management has reduced the natural ebbs and flows of the river.

“The end result of that is this slow moving ecological catastrophe where we’ve lost 64,000 acres of wetlands, we’ve lost 70 percent of the pike population. The effects have rippled through the ecosystem,” Willbanks said.

Over the course of two decades, the International Joint Commission, with input from environmental groups and lawmakers, devised what they say is a way to reverse that damage. They called it Plan 2014.  It restores the water levels closer to its natural conditions. Willbanks says for almost two years that plan has languished in government limbo.  

“It needs the signature from the secretary of state from the U.S. and the minister of foreign affairs in Canada. With that stroke of a pen the plan can go into place and begin the second largest restoration behind the restoration of the Everglades.”

Residents with homes and businesses on the shores of Lake Ontario are against the plan. They say higher water levels from the lake will force them to pay more taxes to keep their beaches and yards from flooding.

Still, Willbanks hope the river’s new designation as endangered will put pressure on elected officials in Ottawa and D.C. to approve the plan.