An ongoing review of Plan 2014 and the regulation of Lake Ontario outflows will be informed by a diverse Public Advisory Group of people from Canada and the United States. The 16-member group includes leaders from shoreline associations from both sides of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River along with representatives from boating and tourism groups, environmental organizations, local governments, commercial navigation, First Nations and hydropower in New York, Ontario and Quebec.
Plan 2014 is the regulation plan used by the International Joint Commission’s (IJC) International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board to set Lake Ontario outflows.
Residents and the board have dealt with record-high water levels and river flows in two of the last three years.
The extremely wet conditions are beyond those that can be managed by any regulation plan.
However, the IJC remains committed to finding the best solutions possible for managing levels and flows, especially during periods of extreme climate conditions. To that end, the IJC allowed the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board to deviate from Plan 2014 during the winter and into spring to reduce Lake Ontario’s rise without causing major damage to other stakeholders throughout the system.
When the IJC approved Plan 2014, it required a review of the plan’s performance within 15 years. IJC Commissioners, all of whom were appointed in May 2017, called for an “expedited review” after the record floods in 2017 and 2019.
The IJC has received about $3 million from Canada and the United States to investigate possible improvements to the regulation of Lake Ontario outflows.
The review will focus on gathering and analyzing scientific data to review the performance of the regulation plan and identify potential changes to best manage water levels under extreme conditions.
The effort will be managed by the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management (GLAM) Committee, a sub-committee to the IJC’s Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board, Niagara Board of Control and Lake Superior Board of Control. GLAM members provided nominations for the Public Advisory Group to guide the IJC’s appointment process.
As stated by IJC Canadian Chair Pierre Béland when the Plan 2014 expedited review was announced earlier this year: “The advisory group will create an invaluable, direct connection between the review and those impacted by water levels and flows throughout the system.”
The Public Advisory Group will assist review efforts by contributing knowledge about water level impacts along with input on the assessment methods used in the review. Group members also will help foster a dialogue between GLAM and affected interests and constituencies. The GLAM Committee further plans to seek input on the expedited review from the public at a future stage in the review process.
The GLAM Committee is responsible for providing the data, information and tools needed to support the board in decisions on whether it should recommend adjustments to Plan 2014. Any resulting changes to Plan 2014 would need to be approved by the IJC and agreed to by the governments of Canada and the United States. Plan 2014 was finalized and approved by the IJC in 2016 after more than 16 years of study. Two years of heavy precipitation followed in 2017 and 2019.
The first phase of the review began in February and is expected to take about 18 months. Information is being provided to the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board on how best to deal with existing near-record high inflows to Lake Ontario from Lake Erie and address high water conditions. A second phase will examine how Plan 2014 addresses extreme high and low water levels over the long term.
Jeff Kart is executive editor of the IJC’s monthly Great Lakes Connection and quarterly Water Matters newsletters.