Section 3: Governance and Decision-Making
Three major groups are responsible for the decision-making and governance for the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River system, starting with the Boundary Waters Treaty:
The International Joint Commission (IJC) sets the overall policy for managing water levels and flows,
The International St. Lawrence River Board of Control (ISLRBC) sets the strategy for meeting the IJC policies, and
The Canadian and U.S. hydropower entities operate the dams in the St. Lawrence River to implement the strategy of the ISLRBC.
3.1 The Boundary Waters Treaty [top of page]
The Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 was written to help the United States and Canada prevent and resolve disputes over the use of the waters they share.
In very general terms, unless there is a special agreement between the United States and Canada, new uses and obstructions or diversions of boundary waters cannot take place without the prior approval of the IJC if the proposed project will affect the natural level or flow of those waters on the other side of the boundary. The IJC considers interests in both countries in accordance with the Treaty and may require that certain conditions in project design or operation be met to protect interests on either side of the boundary. If the IJC approves a project in response to an application, it issues an ‘ Order of Approval.’ In cases where the operation of the project must meet certain conditions, such as flow requirements through a dam, the IJC appoints a board to monitor compliance with the Order of Approval on an ongoing basis.
Yes. Article VIII of the Boundary Waters Treaty states that the Commission may not approve a use that tends materially to conflict with or restrain any other use given preference over it in the order of precedence The order of precedence among the various uses enumerated in the treaty is stated as: (1) uses for domestic and sanitary purposes, (2) uses for navigation, and (3) uses for power and irrigation purposes. “Domestic and sanitary purposes” include municipal water supply and wastewater treatment. The provisions do not apply to or disturb any existing uses of the boundary waters on either side of the border.
3.2 The International Joint Commission (IJC) [top of page]
The International Joint Commission (IJC) was established under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to help the United States and Canada prevent and resolve disputes over the use of the waters they share. Under the Treaty, the IJC approves certain projects that affect the natural levels and flows of boundary waters, such as the international navigation (the Seaway) and hydroelectric power project (the Moses-Saunders Dam) at Massena, New York and Cornwall, Ontario.
The IJC has six members. Three are appointed by the President of the United States, with the advice and approval of the Senate, and three are appointed by the Governor in Council of Canada, with the advice of the Prime Minister. The Commissioners must follow the Treaty in preventing or resolving disputes. They must act impartially in reviewing problems and deciding on issues, rather than representing the views of their respective governments.
The Commission has set up more than 20 boards and task forces, made up of experts from the United States and Canada to help it carry out its responsibilities.
When the IJC approves a project, it issues Orders of Approval, which may require that flows through the project and corresponding levels both upstream and downstream meet certain conditions to protect interests in both countries. The Orders of Approval for Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River were issued in 1952 and amended in 1956. They are often referred to as the 1956 Orders of Approval.
The 1956 Orders approved the construction and operation of the components of the international hydropower project at Massena, New York and Cornwall, Ontario, which affect water levels and flows in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. These components include channel enlargements that increased the capacity to release water from Lake Ontario, as well as works that regulate the flows. The Orders reaffirm the priorities for water use set by the Boundary Waters Treaty (see Q 3.1.2 above), require that the works be operated to provide no less protection to riparian and navigation interests downstream, and state that the IJC will indicate the interrelationships among the requirements of the Orders when needed.
The Orders also established the International Saint Lawrence River Board of Control (ISLRBC) and provide 11 criteria for managing flows through the project. The first ten of these criteria, including the upper limit of the four-foot range for Lake Ontario water levels, are to be met when water supplies to Lake Ontario are within those experienced during the period of record (1860-1954). The eleventh criterion ( called criteria k) applies when water supplies are higher or lower than those experienced during this period. When higher, the outflow from Lake Ontario is to be regulated to provide all possible relief to both upstream and downstream property owners. When supplies are less than those during the period of record, the outflow is to be regulated to provide all possible relief to navigation and power interests. The full text of the 1956 Orders of Approval, including the 11 criteria, is available online.
3.2.5 Are Orders of Approval ever updated? [top of page]
Yes, the IJC systematically reviews its Orders of Approval for the projects it has approved along the Canada-United States boundary. As part of this process, the IJC appointed an International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Study Board, which completed an extensive five-year study in March 2006. A potential new approach for regulating water levels and flows is being discussed by a Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Working Group, which was convened in December 2009 to provide advice to the IJC. The Working Group includes members from Canada, the United States, New York, Ontario, Quebec, and the IJC. Any potential changes to the Orders of Approval represent very complex discussions weighing numerous factors such as environmental, municipal, hydropower, riparian, navigation, and recreational interests and climatic changes.
The IJC holds public hearings and involves the public in other ways whenever it initiates a study or reviews a dam or other structure for possible approval. IJC boards that monitor the operation of these structures, such as the International St. Lawrence River Board of Control, also hold regular public meetings. The IJC also occasionally sponsors other conferences, meetings, and round-table discussions, in which members of the public and representatives of community groups and other organizations can take part. Notices and information materials are produced on various topics; these materials and Commission reports are available online and from the IJC offices.
3.3 International St. Lawrence River Board of Control [top of page]
The International St. Lawrence River Board of Control (ISLRBC) is the body that oversees the regulation of water levels and flows in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River consistent with the requirements established by the IJC. When the IJC approved the international hydropower project in the St. Lawrence River, it appointed the ISLRBC to develop and operate a regulation plan to determine flows through the project that are consistent with the Orders of Approval. The Board now oversees the regulation and ensures that the requirements set by the IJC in its Orders of Approval are followed.
The ISLRBC has ten members: five from each country, Canada and the United States. Current membership can be found on the Board's website. Members are not paid for the time they devote to ISLRBC activities beyond any salaries they receive from their employer if they are employed by another institution. The members bring a variety of technical and local knowledge to Board discussions.
Members of the ISLRBC are appointed by the International Joint Commission. Appointments are based on members’ technical background and knowledge of the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River system. Board members are appointed to serve impartially in their personal and professional capacities, not as representatives of particular agencies, interests or geographic regions.
Similar to the IJC, the ISLRBC operates by consensus rather than by taking formal votes. The Board discusses the probable outcomes of various courses of action, the views expressed by individual members, and input from the public, until consensus is achieved. If consensus is not reached, additional information and discussion may be required to reach an informed solution.
3.3.5 What is done to ensure that the public has input into ISLRBC decisions? [top of page]
The ISLRBC actively engages the public through various means including public meetings, public teleconferences, briefings for stakeholder organizations, news media, and elected officials. The Board also receives and responds to phone calls, letters, and e-mail messages.
Yes, the ISLRBC announces its flow strategy decisions, including the rationale for reaching those decisions in their press releases and posts this information on its website along with the minutes of its meetings and the weekly Lake Ontario outflow. Members of the public can also join an e-mail list to receive weekly e-mail updates on recent water levels and flows.
The ILSRBC holds public teleconferences twice a year (usually on the third Tuesday in March and September) and distributes informative announcements on a regular basis to media outlets and which are posted on its website. The ISLRBC reaches out to news media, elected officials, stakeholder organizations and its own contact lists to increase public awareness of such information. We encourage others to spread the information and will include anyone who is interested in our regular distributions. ISLRBC members and our Facebook page are available to promote public awareness.
3.4 Operators of the Dam [top of page]
Ontario Power Generation owns and operates the Canadian side of the dam, and the New York Power Authority owns and operates the U.S. side of the dam, both under the direction of the Board. They ensure that outflows follow the releases prescribed by the Plan, as directed by the Board’s strategy and authority for discretionary deviations.
The Operations Advisory Group consists of navigation and hydropower representatives who provide advice on the impact of the weekly outflows to their respective operations. A different flow than that prescribed by the regulation plan or as directed by ISLRBC’s strategy may be recommended by the OAG due to operational considerations and constraints; however, any such recommendation is subject to approval by the Board.