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IJC maximizing Lake Ontario outflows, but some politicians still targeting Plan 2014

Rep. John Katko
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Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) reviews the historically high Lake Ontario water levels in 2017, when thousands of homeowners and business owners suffered from flooding.

Water levels in the Great Lakes basin are once again higher than normal, similar to what happened last year ahead of the historic flooding that occurred along Lake Ontario's southern shore. Federal and state officials are working to avoid a repeat, but some say it's not enough.

Arun Heer, a spokesperson for the International Joint Commission (IJC) that regulates water levels on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, says Lake Ontario may be a foot above average, but that does not necessarily guarantee flooding later this year. He notes that record rainfall in the spring was largely to blame for what happened in 2017. But Heer says the IJC is not taking any chances. The organization is maximizing how much water they are draining from the lake into the river. And unlike in 2017, the ice this year has been less likely to cause jams in the St. Lawrence river.

"In general, I would say the conditions in terms of ice formation are different than they were last year allowing the board to sustain outflows at higher levels for longer periods of time," Heer said.

State Sen. Pam Helming, who represents parts of Monroe and Cayuga counties, says that's promising. But she says it may not matter so long as the IJC continues to operate under Plan 2014, the policy that prescribes how and when the organization can lower water levels.

"We still have the issue with some of our low-lying communities like Sodus Point, like in Monroe County in Greece, where their flood point is lower than the trigger point for the release of water," Helming said. "So regardless of what the IJC does right now, unless they change their trigger point, unless they reduce it, our communities are going to still face flooding."

Many New York state politicians have called for scrapping or changing plan 2014. Because it's a joint American-Canadian plan, that would have to be done by federal lawmakers.

Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) says he recently spoke with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about his concerns with Plan 2014.

"I spoke to him for about 20 minutes and he now understands the issue and he is going to take a look at it and hopefully we can have some alleviation," Katko said.  

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.