© 2023 WRVO Public Media
Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Help document the summer of high water on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River

Allan Menkel
Owatonna Island in Chippewa Bay on the St. Lawrence River earlier this summer

Researchers are trying to document the summer of high water on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. They're asking shoreline residents and local officials to fill out an online survey.

It’s been more than two months now since Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River swelled above flood stage. And in many places, they still haven’t receded enough to make a difference.

"Some areas have been inundated for months and other areas are experiencing a significant amount of erosion," says Mary Austerman of New York Sea Grant.

From Buffalo and Rochester all the way down the St. Lawrence to Ogdensburg, docks and boathouses have been underwater, lawns and basements flooded, town wastewater systems affected.

Building data points from Buffalo to Ogdensburg

Austerman noticed there wasn’t a central clearinghouse for documenting this once-in-a-century weather event.

"I was getting contacted by property owners themselves, asking for a way to document some of the impacts that their properties were experiencing."

New York Sea Grant is working with Cornell University to set up an online survey to gather data from across the region. It’s not about totaling monetary damages, Austerman says. The state has set up hotlines for that and is offering millions of dollars to help pay for property damage.

Credit Catherine Loper / WRVO News
WRVO News (file photo)
Sackets Harbor in May.

It’s about recording what’s happened and where, Austerman says.

"People forget quickly. This is just one way that we’re able to collect these reports in a standardized way. And we’re also collecting pictures so we’ll also have pictorial documentation of the event as well."

She says the data will be made available to communities to help them protect themselves from future flooding and erosion, especially considering the effects of climate change -- "high energy storms, more localized severe events, and have severe events more frequently."

So far, Austerman says more than 700 people have filled out surveys along lake Ontario, more than 60 along the St. Lawrence River. The surveys are open until August 31.

Cuomo blasts IJC, again

Gov. Andrew Cuomo fired off again at the agency that manages water levels on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.

This week, the International Joint Commission eased back on outflows from the St. Lawrence River, even though parts of the river and Lake Ontario are still struggling with extremely high water. The IJC said swift currents were causing dangerous boating conditions and below average water levels just before the dam in Massena.

In a statement Tuesday, Cuomo called the decision “senseless.” He accused the IJC of “prioritizing shipping interests over the safety and security of people living along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.”

Most water experts across the Great Lakes, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, have said the extremely wet spring, not regulators, is to blame for the record high levels that peaked in late May. Lake Ontario is down a foot since then.

David Sommerstein, a contributor from North Country Public Radio (NCPR), has covered the St. Lawrence Valley, Thousand Islands, Watertown, Fort Drum and Tug Hill regions since 2000. Sommerstein has reported extensively on agriculture in New York State, Fort Drum’s engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the lives of undocumented Latino immigrants on area dairy farms. He’s won numerous national and regional awards for his reporting from the Associated Press, the Public Radio News Directors Association, and the Radio-Television News Directors Association. He's regularly featured on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Only a Game, and PRI’s The World.