The St. Lawrence Seaways 55th shipping season began Friday. For people dependent on the river it is a time for reflection. We are reminded it is more than just a Seaway or a water highway. We know, despite being constrained and channelized, it has not lost its essential role as a major element in the health and vitality of the region through which it passes.
Save the River has worked for 35 years to protect and restore the river. For many of those years many of our battles have been spent fighting issues related to the Seaway winter navigation, expansion of Seaway infrastructure and invasive species introduced in ballast water discharges, among others.
This year as the Seaway opens there is good news. Communications with the Seaway is good, and there is progress on many issues. Winter navigation and Seaway expansion are off the table for now. Recent regulatory changes appear to have slowed the tsunami of invasive species at least from the east. This opening day the river will be largely free of ice.
Unfortunately the ice-free conditions are also an indication of other disturbing trends. The trend toward less ice cover contributes to greater evaporation from the lake and river, lowering levels. Changes in weather patterns have also led to record low water levels in the upper Great Lakes, while causing more frequent storm events locally.
Last year, many businesses closed early due to low levels, and we face an uncertain future. Almost 60 years of outdated water levels management under Plan 1958D has significantly altered the river,reducing native fish populations and degrading wetlands, and it becomes clear what the most urgent river issue of our day is.
The regions economy relies on the areas ecology. Healthier lake and river wetlands will support stronger populations of native fish and wildlife, improving the areas hunting and fishing, and strengthening the recreational economies that rely upon them.
Over a year ago, the International Joint Commission proposed a modern and beneficial water levels plan Bv7. Since then there have been meetings, and more meetings. But there has not been a decision. River communities cannot afford further delay.
With a new season, it is time for the International Joint Commission to hold hearings and for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to voice support for Bv7. Contact both and ask them to support a healthy St. Lawrence River.
The writer is executive director of Save the River.