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Lake Ontario levels unleash a flood of cross-border bickering

An international experiment spurred by a soaked spring has quickly become a blame game as Canada and the United States figure out what to do about Lake Ontario and its precariously high water levels.

American anger has risen over a Canadian-American body’s reluctance in recent weeks to release more water from a dam near Cornwall, Ont.

The International Joint Commission launched a three-day experiment on Wednesday, sending a record flow downstream to see whether more water can be drained out of Lake Ontario and sent into the St Lawrence River safely.

“There are various risks to shipping as far as safety goes with the extra water, extra currents,” said Frank Seglenieks,

a water resources engineer for Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Commission ‘playing catch-up,’ governor charges

But on the other side of the lake in upstate New York, several communities built right on the water are still at risk of more floods.

New York residents and officials want the board to release more water through the dam, but the commission also must consider flood-ravaged downstream communities, as well as cargo ships that would be hampered by increased currents.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo insists more water should have been released earlier.

Cuomo, a Democrat who is reportedly considering a run for president in 2020, also suggested the commission hasn’t looked after American interests properly.


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo insists more water should have been released earlier. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

“They did not increase the outflows when they could have,” Cuomo said in the Rochester suburb of Greece on Tuesday. “And I think they pulled the trigger too late and now they’re trying to play catch-up.

“And the lake is so large that catch-up doesn’t work.”

‘The worst kind of politics’

Cuomo added the flooding has “devastated” the spring-summer tourism season for many lakeside communities.

“When that season gets wiped out, it has economic consequences for the entire year,” he said.


Kite-surfers enjoy the flat water leftover from floods in Toronto’s Ashbridges Bay. (CBC)

The commission responded to Cuomo’s comments by saying no one could have predicted the severe flooding throughout the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River system caused by record rainfall.

If more water had been released earlier, it would have added to the woes of communities downstream along the St. Lawrence, including parts of Quebec, like Rigaud, which is still reeling from last month’s intense floods.

Canadian Senator Bob Runciman, who represented a riding along the St. Lawrence River in the Ontario Legislature, says he isn’t impressed by Cuomo’s push.

WEA CDA Flooding 20170508

A man and a woman are evacuated from their home by police officers in the town of Rigaud, Que. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

“He’s playing politics, and it’s the worst kind of politics,” Runciman told CBC News this week.

“It’s the blame game, we’ve had this flooding occurring because we’ve had higher than normal rainfall for two consecutive months.”

Right now, Lake Ontario is dropping by about a centimetre a day. If one were to take a couple of Canadian quarters and stack them on top of each other, that’s roughly how much extra Lake Ontario is expected to drop because of the experiment.

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