A workshop on October 4-5, 2023, in Cornwall, Ontario, brought together the Great Lakes- St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management (GLAM) Committee and its Public Advisory Group (PAG). After three years of meeting virtually, the workshop was the first in-person gathering of PAG members.
Also in attendance were representatives from the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board and International Joint Commission The two-day workshop was attended by 14 of the 18 PAG members, along with GLAM Committee members, and representatives of the ILOSLRB and IJC. The event was held at the Saunders Hydro Dam Visitor Centre, a beautiful facility with a panoramic view of the Moses-Saunders Power Dam and St. Lawrence River.
A long shot of the Moses-Saunders dam. Credit: IJC/GLAM
The PAG was established in 2020 to share information about the communities which members represent and provide feedback to the GLAM Committee on the Expedited Review of Plan 2014, the plan for regulating Lake Ontario outflows.
The PAG formed during Phase 1 of the Expedited Review was re-established for Phase 2 to continue robust engagement with the public.
The Phase 2 PAG includes most of the original PAG members and some new ones, including individuals who represent municipalities, Indigenous communities, agricultural and environmental groups, landowners, shoreline associations, boating and tourism groups, commercial navigation and hydropower who are impacted by water levels of the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River system.
The workshop opened and closed with a Traditional Thanksgiving Address by Abraham Francis, representing the Mohawks of Akwesasne. With an aim to improve trust and transparency between technical experts and those impacted by water level and flow conditions, workshop discussions focused on issues, stories and concerns related to the impacts of high and low water levels in the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River basin.
The workshop also included presentations, breakouts and discussions of communications needs, as well as Plan 2014 evaluation metrics such as performance indicators, impact ranges and tradeoffs. These discussions provided the GLAM Committee with feedback from the PAG about ongoing developments associated with the plan review, evaluation and ranking process.
A view of the workshop. Credit: IJC/GLAM
PAG members agreed that the consultative process between the GLAM Committee and other PAG members has been helpful in connecting the community, Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board and IJC decision makers.
The workshop discussions revealed a need for a unified approach to communicate facts, messages and other information related to water level regulation in ways that are meaningful to those directly impacted by extreme high and low fluctuations. The concept creative messaging techniques were discussed as ways to develop trust, a shared empathy and a better understanding of the complexities of water level fluctuations and regulatory responses.
Communication tools such as fact sheets, newsletters, video and social media were recommended by PAG members to help convey information to diverse communities with an accurate and united voice.
The PAG members were interested in the performance indicators, impact ranges, limits and trade-offs associated with the regulation plan evaluation, and associated experiments designed to test regulation rules and limits.
Discussion focused on the challenges of perceived fairness and equity among impacted geographic regions and communities, including the specific impacts on Indigenous communities. Themes of collective impact, resilience and adaptive management were explored in relation to the metrics and how they affect decisions. The PAG members reinforced the need for concise, fact-based communications to convey technical information to affected communities.
The next in-person PAG meeting is scheduled for spring 2024 with a number of virtual meetings planned over the winter months to explore performance metrics and modeling tools used in the plan evaluation process.
For more information on the PAG and GLAM’s Expedited Review of Plan 2014, visit www.ijc.org/glam/glam-expedited-review-plan-2014-phase-2.
Pam Maloney facilitated the workshop and is a former development officer for the St. Lawrence River Institute in Cornwall, Ontario, and biologist for the government of Canada.