The panel tasked with overseeing Lake Ontario water levels said on Tuesday that outflows will remain "as high as feasible" over the winter to avoid a repeat of flooding that occurred in 2017 and this year.
The International Joint Commission's Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board explained that the high outflows are part of a winter deviation strategy to "reduce the impact of future levels on Lake Ontario."
Several election officials in New York, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and U.S. Rep. John Katko, criticized the IJC for not increasing outflows during the winter of 2018-19 to prevent flooding in the spring.
Data available on the commission's website shows outflows were maintained above the historical averages for much of the winter. Flooding occurred, according to the IJC, due to extreme rainfall in the Great Lakes Basin.
As of Monday, outflows are at 312,500 cubic feet per second — 72,700 cubic feet per second higher than the historical average for this time of year.
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Outflows could be altered once ice forms on the St. Lawrence River. The board said reduced outflows through the Moses-Saunders Dam will be necessary to "help create a stable ice cover on the river." Flow management when ice is forming, the board continued, prevents ice jams on the river. Ice jams can cause flooding.
"Once (the ice cover is) established, outflows can be safely increased to pass under the stable ice cover, allowing higher outflows later in winter and reducing — but not eliminating — the risk of high Lake Ontario levels in spring," the board said in a statement.
The IJC has been criticized for its oversight of Lake Ontario water levels. The commission, a bi-national panel that manages shared boundary waters between the U.S. and Canada, adopted Plan 2014 in December 2016. The plan establishes how the commission, through the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board, manages the water levels.
Cuomo, Katko and other elected officials believe Plan 2014 contributed to the high Lake Ontario levels in 2017 and 2019.
While some leaders push for changes or a complete repeal of Plan 2014, the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board said it will continue to investigate ways to "deviate from Plan 2014 and release higher outflows over the next several months in an attempt to lower the risk of high Lake Ontario levels next spring."