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Lake Ontario residents optimistic about new tool that could reduce flooding risks

JP Newell

The international body that oversees the regulation of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River is in the middle of a comprehensive review of Plan 2014, the water management plan that governs decisions on things like outflows. As part of that process, the committee leading this effort has developed a new tool that has some shoreline homeowners feeling optimistic about the future.

When water levels reach a certain height, the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board is given the power to deviate from Plan 2014, meaning they can increase outflows to whatever level necessary to avoid flooding. Accordingly, Plan 2014 does not dictate or offer much guidance on what the Board should do after deviating. However, the members don't have free rein to do whatever they want as there are various populations, everyone from shoreline residents to the shipping industry to environmentalists and more, to keep in mind.

That's where the so-called Decision Support Tool comes in. Bernie Gigas, an engineer and a member of the group reviewing Plan 2014, said it's like a program or code based on historical water supply records that can simulate what could happen from different decisions.

"It looks at each individual interest group, or stakeholders, and measures the impact on them, so it gives you - when you make a decision - a pretty clear picture of who benefits from that decision and who may be negatively impacted by that decision and to what degree," Gigas said. "It allows the Board to model many scenarios quickly, more thoroughly than may be easily done now."

Although this Decision Support Tool is not yet finished, Sarah Delicate, a shoreline resident in Canada and member of the committee developing the tool, is very pleased with what she's seen thus far. Delicate founded the United Shoreline Ontario advocacy group that has fought for the interests of shoreline residents in Canada and the U.S. Delicate said she believes they have finally been heard as this tool now has enough data to accurately predict what will happen to homeowners in different deviation situations.

"A lot of the information that gets considered is what’s the cost to shipping because there’s a tremendous amount of data available on the economics of shipping, but there is so little data on the socioeconomic cost - the tourism cost, the farming cost, the municipal cost - we don't have that data," Delicate said. "This Decision Support Tool is heading us in that direction so that we can level the playing field and put us in the room while decisions are being made."

Those working on the Decision Support Tool say it could be finished later this year.

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.