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Lake Ontario experiencing driest season since 1966

Cathy Goodnough
Water levels throughout the Lake Ontario basin are low, leaving many marinas empty or under-utilized this summer.

After the severe flooding along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River in 2017 and 2019, residents and businesses like the Greene Point Marina in Sandy Pond invested heavily in coastal resiliency projects to raise roads, bridges, and docks along the shoreline. But as Greene Point's owner Cathy Goodnough points out, for all their efforts no one was prepared for this season, in which Lake Ontario is nearly 2 feet below where it was at this time last year.

"We have built everything up that we could possibly do to be resilient against high water and now we are finding ourselves on the extreme opposite," Goodnough said. "People aren't coming into the area to do recreational boating because they're hearing that the water levels are so low that they don't want to take a chance that they may damage something on their boat."

Lake Ontario is experiencing its driest season since 1966 and the current forecasts say conditions are unlikely to improve as the lake already reached its peak for the year. In response to the drought conditions in the basin, the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board has deviated from the water management plan it uses to help control water levels. Outflows from the lake to the river have been reduced.

Moving forward, Board member Tony David said they're limited on how much more they can do as the dry conditions exist downstream from Lake Ontario as well and any further actions would harm hydropower, municipal operations, and shipping.

"We're already causing impacts, we're already causing harm," David said. "For example commercial navigation have to do speed restrictions for the ships, there's also limits to the types of container ships that can use the Port of Montreal, and we're also getting advanced warning about municipal intakes that may be in trouble in the later parts of the summer. So, this outflow strategy right now is storing a very small amount of water on Lake Ontario. Hopefully, we'll be able to carry that balance into later this summer, but it's definitely going to be some tough decisions later on."

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.