In the final year of its mandate, experts with the International Lake Champlain-Richelieu River Flood Study are documenting their research in various reports.
Findings and recommendations to the IJC are due in 2022.
The study board was tasked with identifying the causes, risks, impacts and potential solutions to flooding in the Lake Champlain-Richelieu River (LCRR) basin. The study is examining structural and nonstructural options to reduce the risks and impacts of flooding, including tools to enhance flood forecasting capabilities for the basin that will help emergency response preparedness for future flood events.
In spring 2011, the LCRR basin experienced record flooding due to rapid snow melt and heavy spring rains, with water levels remaining above flood stage for 67 days. During the flooding, storm surge and wave events led to even higher lake levels and increased damages.
These lake conditions are currently not included in the modeling system that the National Weather Service uses for the region. Surge and wave conditions are critical to public safety for recreational and commercial activities on the lake, such as boating and swimming, and for predicting coastal flood impacts at the shoreline where waves can run up and significantly impact infrastructure.
The development of an enhanced LCRR forecasting system is a binational effort between the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) and the Ministère de l’environnement et de la lutte contre les changements climatiques (MELCC), the body responsible for flood forecasting in Quebec.
The development of a new Lake Champlain flood forecasting system involves upgrades to a distributed hydrologic model which estimates inflows to the lake; a hydrodynamic model to predict changes in lake levels caused by inflow and winds; and a wind wave model. The goal is to develop a new real-time flood forecast modeling system for the LCRR basin.
This system will inform future operational flood forecasts for the basin and support inundation mapping as well as recreational forecasts. It will provide input, particularly water levels data, for Canadian flood models of the Richelieu River basin to improve binational flood forecasting.
The flood forecasting system will provide real-time forecasts several times a day to predict lake level, currents, wind and waves. The output of these models for the entrance to the Richelieu River will then be used to predict water levels in the Richelieu River and inform forecasting there.
Researchers at the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR) are currently leading the development of these models, which are already providing experimental forecasts that can be found on the GLERL website.
As part of the effort to enhance flood forecasting capabilities for the basin, GLERL, with assistance from the University of Vermont, recently deployed a buoy in Lake Champlain that will measure the lake’s wave heights to assess the accuracy of a new experimental model for the lake. This project is funded by the IJC’s International Lake Champlain-Richelieu River Study and intended to improve public safety on Lake Champlain by contributing to flood preparedness and response around the shores of the lake.
The data collected by the buoy will be compared to output data from experimental forecast models to assess how well the model performs. The buoy’s environmental data can be found on a Coastal Data Information Program page.
The buoy and experimental wave model will be a helpful new tool for the region’s National Weather Service forecast office in Burlington, Vermont, which provides lake forecasts including wave data to mariners in the region. In addition to regional weather forecasters and local mariners, this buoy’s data also will be useful to emergency managers in regions and communities around Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River.
Christina Chiasson is a policy analyst for the Canadian Section of the IJC in Ottawa, Ontario.