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U.S. geological scientsts, FEMA assessing Lake Ontario flooding damage

Payne Horning
U.S. Geological Survey scientists are flying drones and installing water elevation sensors along Lake Ontario to assess the damage from this year's historically high levels.

U.S. Geological Survey scientists are installing equipment along the shores of Lake Ontario to better monitor water levels and understand the impact from this year's flooding.

With Lake Ontario 30 inches above normal, scientists say New York state officials have not dealt with levels like this in a generation. So they're trying to equip leaders with the latest technology to improve their tracking and response efforts.

Credit Payne Horning / WRVO News
U.S. Geological Survey scientists Brendan McCarthy and Natalie Cheung assemble a water elevation sensor in Sodus Point.

At the U.S. Coast Guard station in Sodus Point, scientists assembled one of the 14 water elevation sensors that will be placed along a 150-mile stretch of Lake Ontario's shoreline. Bill Coon with U.S.G.S says these devices will record water levels every six minutes.

"And then that data will be online and available to the public and emergency responders and whomever so they can monitor for themselves what the lake is doing at the various points around the eastern and southern shores," Coon said. 

Coon says these devices will also help scientists and officials understand in real time how the outflows of water to the St. Lawrence River impact levels in Lake Ontario. That data could be used to improve the so-called draining of Lake Ontario during similar conditions in the future.

"What that will do is let people know you know if we release X amount of water at Massena, how long will it take for the lake to drop an inch if we release this much water or not," Coon said. "Just that information in a model would be very insightful for a future - hopefully it won't happen again like this - but future flooding events along the lake."

U.S.G.S scientists are also sending drones along the shoreline to discover the scope of the coastal erosion damage. The fieldwork from U.S.G.S is being paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

"Now those are valuable to FEMA because they can see where the flooding was and how serious it was at different points," he said. 

This comes as FEMA is trying to determine whether a federal disaster declaration is warranted in the area impacted by this year's Lake Ontario-related flooding. 

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.