A year ago, Lake Ontario began an unprecedented climb that resulted in record water levels and catastrophic flooding for those on its shoreline. The lake's levels are currently 16 inches below where they were in May of 2017, but still eight inches above the long-term average.
Officials with the International Joint Commission (IJC), the government body that regulates the water levels, say there's no need for alarm. The organization predicts that significant flooding is unlikely based on the snowmelt and weather forecasts. But even though the levels are within what IJC Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board member Tom Brown calls normal, he says people should be preparing as if they are not.
"There is a limit to how much we can control the lake, especially under excessive inflow conditions and they happen about every 20 years," Brown said. "That should set the outlook for this to happen again and hopefully encourage people to take shoreline resiliency measures to be better prepared the next time around because if history is the same it will repeat itself again. We'll have wet years down the road and probably levels pretty close to what they were in 2017."
Some lawmakers have proposed funding for more resiliency measures along Lake Ontario. But many more are targeting Plan 2014, the water management plan that dictates how much water can be released from Lake Ontario to the St. Lawrence River and when. They blame its restrictions for the amount of flooding that occurred last year, and say it could do the same again if not fixed.
After months of record outflows this winter, the IJC pulled back in accordance with Plan 2014. That prompted criticism from a bipartisan coalition of New York lawmakers and calls to ramp back up. But the IJC has defended that reduction, and the decision to do so again now, because of concerns about how the maximum outflows affect those on the other side of the Moses Saunders Dam.
"When the outflows are at the maximum, current conditions throughout the river can be pretty risky for mariners and boaters," Brown said. "So what we’re really trying to do is balance it."