Seaway authority to release plan to adjust water levels
By Joanne Laucius
Published February 20, 2008
The binational commission that regulates the flow in the St. Lawrence Seaway is set to release a proposal next month to adjust water flow through Cornwall's Moses-Saunders Dam.
The plan is likely to affect levels in many parts of the waterway. There are three potential schemes under consideration, but the preferred option suggests allowing greater variations in water levels, as was the case before the Seaway opened almost 50 years ago.
"It would allow the system to return to its normal ebbs and flows," said Greg McGillis, a spokesman for the International Joint Commission, the independent body that regulates the seaway.
The preferred plan has environmental benefits, encouraging the return of wetlands and wildlife populations, he said. It could also affect power production, tourism, recreational boating, water supplies and commercial navigation. But meetings on the issue in Ontario have only attracted 30 or 40 people, while in the U.S., crowds of 300 or 400 have gathered to debate the options, Mr. McGillis said.
The plan has not attracted much controversy in Eastern Ontario, but it has raised questions in Montreal, where low water levels might affect the Port of Montreal, and around Rochester, New York, where high water levels could increase the risk of flooding for landowners on the south shore of Lake Ontario.
There are about 100 homeowners on the south shore who face the risk of flooding, said Mr. McGillis. While waters will rise just as much on Canadian shorelines, there is less risk of flooding because Canadian homeowners followed the setback guidelines more closely. "The laws exist in the U.S. They have been resolutely ignored," he said.
Changing water levels have also been flagged as a potential problem by the busy Port of Montreal, which has recurring problems with low water levels. Last September, the International Joint Commission authorized a gradual release of water from the Great Lakes through the dam at Cornwall.
The aim of the five-year study that produced the plan was to correct, as much as possible, the wrongs of the St. Lawrence Seaway, a massive engineering project that was officially opened in 1959, said Mr. McGillis.
The waterway enables vessels to sail from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Duluth, Minnesota, and makes it possible to inexpensively transport bulky cargo. But it also changed habitat for waterfowl, fish, vegetation and other parts of the ecosystem because the engineered waterway did not have the same extremes of high and low water as the natural system.
After the proposal is released on March 31, the IJC plans to hold 10 meetings in towns and cities in various parts of the seaway system on both sides of the border, said Mr. McGillis. Dates and places are to be announced after the plan is released.