While discussing the International Joint Commissions latest proposal to regulate the flow of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, one member had an interesting warning on where the buck stops.
Lana Pollack co-chairs the IJC. She and other members of the commission recently met with editors and reporters of the Watertown Daily Times to share their thoughts on the public hearings held last week in Northern New York and Canada regarding Plan 2014.
The proposal would alter the minimum and maximum water levels allowed for Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. It calls for following the natural, seasonal flow of these waterways.
This would help reverse some of the damage done over the past five decades as a result of improper regulation, according to the IJCs plan. It would improve the ecological quality of the waterways and restore fish populations, the IJC said.
Under most circumstances, the IJC may enact its own plans, Ms. Pollack reported. But the fate of Plan 2014 will be in other hands for final approval, she said: Those of the U.S. and Canadian governments.
The flows of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River are moderated through the release of water at the Robert H. Moses-Saunders Power Dam in Massena and Cornwall, Ms. Pollack said. The applications to operate the dam were made by the two national governments, not the IJC.
In every other case, we have the last word. We do not need to ask for the permission of either government. We make an order and it happens, Ms. Pollack told the Watertown Daily Times.
But not when it comes to implementing Plan 2014.
So if they say no, its no, Ms. Pollack said. Ultimately, the two federal governments have the responsibility to either accept IJCs recommendation or reject it. And if they reject it, they own it.
The IJC has developed a sensible plan to deal with the damage done to Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River through overregulation. It is the best way to reverse the destruction wrought on these waterways, and improving their quality is in everyones best interests.
Plan 2014 has its most vocal support from people living in the eastern basin of Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River communities. Their economies are based largely on recreational boating, tourism and a quality naturally regulated environment.
But residents of coastal properties along the southern lakeshore are concerned about potential flooding should water levels fluctuate in a wider range. They have built houses very close to the waters edge, based on provisions in the IJCs Plan 1958-D and Plan 1958-DD.
Many of these residents believe the environmental benefits have been exaggerated, arguing that the real goal here is to generate more power at the hydroelectric dam and, thus, increase profits.
IJC officials agree that altering the water levels will increase the output at the dam. But theyve collected data for years on the effects of changing the water levels, and the science is solidly in their favor.
Members of the IJC do not know how long it will take to begin seeing these environmental benefits. One thing, though, is for certain: Doing nothing will continue the damage that has been done for more than 50 years, and this helps no one.
Just as the IJC does not have the authority to implement Plan 2014, it also has no way of mandating flood mitigation. That would be up to either New York state or the U.S. government.
Both governmental entities must act on Plan 2014 soon, and flood mitigation should be part of the solution. Coastal property owners have known for years that this day was coming, so they cant say this is a surprise to them. Their concerns need to be addressed along with everyone elses, however, and that would make Plan 2014 a win-win for all who will be impacted by it.