Lake Ontario flooding

Emily Russell / NCPR

The commission that manages water levels on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River is calling an emergency meeting to review its current management plan.

The International Joint Commission is a binational U.S.-Canada agency that oversees management of water levels in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.

The IJC put a new management plan, Plan 2014, in place three years ago. Two out of those three years have brought severe flooding and millions of dollars in damage to the region.

Veronica Volk / WXXI News

As Lake Ontario lingers at record highs, public outcry against the group that manages lake levels continues to rise.

Barbara Hasenauer lives on Edgemere Drive in Greece. While picking up sandbags to protect her property from the incessant flooding, she said it’s something she shouldn’t have to do.

"I’m very angry about it," she said. "They can do something, but they don’t. And I don’t mean the people in Greece -- they’ve been great -- but it’s the IJC."

The IJC, or International Joint Commission, is the bi-national group that oversees Great Lakes Management.

In response to record high water levels, the IJC's International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board is letting the maximum amount of water out of the lake that has ever been recorded.

Frank Bevaqua, the public information officer at the IJC, says this increase is possible because the water is above its high water trigger level specified under the lake management plan, and because downstream conditions have improved. Less water is flowing from the Ottawa River into the Upper Saint Lawrence.

There is word that the board of the International Joint Commission, the U.S. – Canadian agency that manages the waters shared by the two countries, may hold an emergency board meeting on Wednesday, to look at issues involving recent shoreline flooding.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a number of state agency officials were in Rochester on Monday to kick off a new commission which will work to toughen the infrastructure along the Lake Ontario shoreline.

The Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative, or REDI, commission is part of the state’s response to the flooding that has hit the south shore of the lake this year, just two years after the last wave of floods that damages homes and other properties.

Cuomo said a number of state agencies will be involved.

Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a letter to the International Joint Commission on Saturday demanding immediate action in response to the ongoing flooding issues along the Lake Ontario shoreline.

The IJC is the U.S. – Canadian body that can help regulate lake levels by affecting the amount of water flowing out of Lake Ontario through a dam on the St. Lawrence Seaway.

WRVO News (file photo)

Officials who help regulate the level of Lake Ontario are pointing to some hopeful signs in the effort to deal with the ongoing flooding issues along the lake shore.

The level of Lake Ontario is still at a record, hovering at around 249 feet. But officials with the International Lake Ontario-Saint Lawrence River Board say that water levels have started to stabilize.

Keith Koralewski, an official with the board and with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said that less rain has helped, and with the forecast for drier, warmer weather later this week, it should help even more.

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO Public Media

Wright's Landing marina in Oswego remains closed due to flooding from record high water levels in Lake Ontario, which is likely to increase in the coming weeks. Officials cited safety concerns as the reason for the closure.

Mike Storms of Oswego was checking on his boat at the marina Monday. He said the flooding has been quite a nuisance.

“Half the parking lot is underwater," Storms said. "You got makeshift bridges to the boat launches and every individual dock."

Even though the marina is closed, charter and fishing boats can go in and out on their own accord.

Jason Smith / WRVO News

People who live along the south shore of Lake Ontario are still contending with flooding threats, particularly when the wind comes from a northerly direction, but experts say there may be some hopeful signs as we head into the summer.

As of Monday, the Lake Ontario level was at 249.02 feet, exceeding the record of 248.95 feet that was set in 2017.

Despite the high water, Sodus Point Mayor Dave McDowell says the village is in good shape for the season.

"We were a lot more prepared this year."

McDowell says they learned a lot from 2017 and have been preparing for potential flooding since January.

Veronica Volk / WXXI News

New Commissioners with the International Joint Commission visited the Rochester and Buffalo areas Tuesday to see some of the flooding caused by high water along the Lake Ontario shoreline.

Laura Jacket lives in North Greece, right on the water, and all year she’s been watching the lake climb slowly higher.

"If you go up right now up to Edgemere Drive and Long Pond and Lowden, you’ll cry if you care about it at all. Because the road is shut down and the water is coming through people’s houses and it’s up to my house now on North Drive."

WRVO News (file photo)

OLCOTT, N.Y. (AP) — New York officials have declared a state of emergency for the counties along Lake Ontario as water levels continue to rise.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday directed state agencies to assist local governments and residents in responding to potential flooding in the coming days and weeks. Rising lake waters caused extensive damage in 2017, and work crews are fortifying flood-prone areas with barriers to avoid a repeat.

A state of emergency has been declared in eight counties: Cayuga, Jefferson, Monroe, Niagara, Orleans, Oswego, St. Lawrence and Wayne.

The International Joint Commission, the joint U.S.-Canadian body that helps determine regulatory decisions about the Great Lakes, has a quorum again. That’s something the agency has not had due to vacancies since late last year.

Senator Chuck Schumer says that the U.S. Senate has voted to confirm three new members of the International Joint Commission. That is the joint U.S.- Canadian regulating body that can have some impact on Lake Ontario levels.

Schumer, a New York Democrat and the Senate Minority Leader, says that the Senate has confirmed former Republican Assembly member Jane Corwin, who will be the U.S. chairwoman of the IJC, as well as nominees Robert Sisson and Lance Yohe.

This remains an anxious time for people who live near the Lake Ontario shoreline. There will be a lot of watchful eyes on water levels in the coming weeks.

While there hasn’t been any widespread flooding yet, like residents saw two years ago, the level of Lake Ontario has been rising, due to a number of factors.

Emily Russell / NCPR

The Thousand Islands is a major tourist destination, but right now it's flooding. Water levels in the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario are higher than average and they’re expected to keep rising.

Like stepping back in time

Plenty of places along the St. Lawrence River cater to summer tourists, but the community of Thousand Islands Park boasts a special kind of charm.

“Oh it’s wonderful," said year round resident Holly Pelland. "It’s like stepping back in time."

Wayne County has declared a State of Emergency on Sodus Bay, East Bay, Port Bay and Blind Sodus Bay due to high water levels on Lake Ontario.

As of early Saturday morning, motor boats must operate at these speeds:

Sodus Bay– idle speed only causing no wake within 1000 feet of shore.

Port Bay, East Bay and Blind Sodus Bay – idle speed only causing no wake.

Authorities say that although recent boat traffic has been minimal, increased boat traffic would create a hazardous situation, property damage and shore line erosion. 

The threat of high water along the Lake Ontario shoreline is often felt first in low-lying places like Sodus Point.

Village Mayor Dave McDowell said that right now, Sodus Point is about as prepared as it can be.

"We have 40,000 sandbags, give or take, deployed around the low spots of the village, they’re holding; we’ve got National Guard back shoring up a couple of spots on the south side with this heavy south wind, but our streets are all dry, the businesses are all open and thriving," McDowell said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to hammer the organization that controls water levels on Lake Ontario as water levels continue to rise.

Cuomo was in Oswego Sunday to tour the Oswego harbor, which like other parts of the shoreline, is seeing higher water. The International Joint Commission has increased the amount of water its letting out of the lake and into the St. Lawrence River, but it can't release too much because of flooding downstream across parts of Canada.

Cuomo said it should never get to this point.

Payne Horning / WRVO News (file photo)

As New York prepares for potential flooding along the Lake Ontario shoreline, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is encouraging communities to take some long-term steps to prevent flooding in the future. 

Cuomo wants to see some long-term investment into flood prevention that he believes is caused in large part by climate change.

"These changes in climate are going to continue, and I can’t tell you how many times this is a 100 year flood event.  It seems like we have a 100 year flood event twice a year," Cuomo said earlier this week while in Sodus Point.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

State officials say they are on alert and ready for potential Lake Ontario flooding in the coming weeks.

In Sodus Point Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a series of steps the state is taking to prevent flooding in the event of a rain storm later this week.

"We have the National Guard on call, we are starting to deploy a structure called an Aquadam, which is basically a temporary dam that can be put in place along properties," Cuomo said.

Payne Horning / WRVO News (file photo)

People who live along the Lake Ontario shoreline are nervously watching lake levels.

The level of Lake Ontario currently is more than a foot above its long term historic average, and while high, it’s not all that unusual.

That’s according to Bryce Carmichael, he is the U.S. Secretary of the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board, which helps manage lake levels.

With concerns about rising levels on Lake Ontario, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Sunday that he has directed state agencies to begin deploying resources to protect communities along the lakeshore.

He notes that following severe flooding in Canada, the International Joint Commission has continued to reduce outflows of water from the Moses-Saunders Dam on the St. Lawrence River in an effort to minimize impacts, and the lake's water level currently sits at more than one foot above average.

Ray Sawhillv / Flickr

The binational organization that regulates shared water between the U.S. and Canada is missing the necessary amount of members it needs to take any actions. That's alarming some communities along Lake Ontario where water levels are about a foot above average.

Payne Horning / WRVO News (file photo)

In a changing climate, people living on Lake Ontario may be more at risk for flooding and extreme weather, so what compels them to stay?

Carol Rodas has being living on the south Shore of Lake Ontario for 55 years.

"It's hypnotic," she said about the waterfront. "I joke with people, I tell them they’re going to have to carry me out feet first."

Like a lot of people along the south shore, Rodas experienced flooding in 2017 that dumped water into her home, compromised the sewage system, and damaged her property.

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News (file photo)

A number of federal lawmakers are concerned that high water levels on Lake Ontario will result in a repeat of the flooding seen along the lake shore in 2017. 

Right now the levels are more than a foot higher than average for this time of year, and residents on the shore of the lake fear another disastrous flood is imminent come spring.

Veronica Volk / WXXI News (file photo)

According to the International Lake Ontario - St. Lawrence River Board, Lake Ontario is more than a foot higher than usual for this time of year.

Keith Koralewski with the Army Corps of Engineers said, we're not alone. "Most of the Great Lakes are currently above average," he said.

But, he said there's no way to tell yet if we'll see a repeat of the 2017 floods along the south shore of the lake, which caused property damage and loss of homes and businesses. He says the current levels are largely due to heavy precipitation, which could change over the next few months.

Payne Horning / WRVO News (file photo)

A new report attempts to explain the causes of last year’s flooding along the south shore of Lake Ontario.


Jamie Henderson / Flickr

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.

Payne Horning / WRVO News (file photo)

New York state lawmakers have included $40 million dollars in this year's budget to help property owners who are still cleaning up from last year's flooding along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.