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What is causing Lake Ontario's high water levels?

Veronica Volk
Sandbags stacked in Sodus Point, NY

Residents who live along the shoreline of Lake Ontario have been trying to stay ahead of rising water levels that are threatening their properties.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, water levels in Lake Ontario are up 15 inches in the last month, and are expected to rise another six inches in the next month. A state of emergency has been declared in Wayne County because of the rising water.

But what is causing the increase in water levels?

Greece Town Supervisor Bill Reilich met this week with representatives of some of the towns along the Lake Ontario shoreline to talk about the impact of Plan 2014, which is the plan formulated by the International Joint Commission, involving representatives of the U.S. and Canada. That plan allows for wider swings in lake levels.

Credit Leah Landry / WRVO News File Photo
WRVO News File Photo
Lake Ontario shore in Oswego, NY

Environmental advocates have argued that the previous plan impacted wetlands and did other damage to the environment. Reilich says he and some of the other officials of communities along the southern shore of Lake Ontario plan to go to Washington soon to lobby against the plan.

“This plan would not be in the best interest of our residents in so much as it elongates the period of time that the water levels are higher and every week that you remain with higher water levels is the likelihood that a windstorm or something could cause a lot of erosion and damage and flooding,” Reilich said.

Frank Bevacqua, a spokesman for the IJC, says that the lake level plan that was implemented earlier this year really had a negligible impact on the current high water situation.

“Plan 2014 took effect on January 7 and it has contributed a very small amount to the situation we’re seeing now,” said Bevacqua. Things would only be marginally better if the old plan were being followed, it’s just a couple of inches difference.”

Bevacqua says the main issue has been a very rainy April, as well dramatic swings in temperature over the last few months.

Reilich says he is concerned about homeowners in his town who may be impacted soon if the water keeps rising.

“We supply the homeowners upon their request,” Reilich said.” Sandbags, we have thousands and thousands of sandbags that we’re prepared to distribute along with the sand that’s necessary. So we’re going to assist them with that effort and hopefully it won’t be required, but we’re prepared if it does.”

Residents have been putting down sandbags in other communities as well including in Sodus, in Wayne County.

In Oswego and Jefferson counties, officials have been monitoring water levels. The biggest area of concern in Oswego County is in Sandy Pond. 

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.
Randy Gorbman is WXXI's Director of News and Public Affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.