Q. What is Plan Bv7?
A. Plan Bv7 is the International Joint Commission’s (IJC) new approach to water level regulation in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. The proposal, if appropriately implemented, will take steps to restore the lake and river after more than 50 years of environmentally damaging regulation. A regulation “plan” is basically a set of rules governing water releases through the Moses-Saunders Dam in the St. Lawrence River.
Q. Why is there a need for a new plan?
A. The current regulation plan – Plan 1958DD - has stabilized the natural fluctuations of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River for 50 years and the damage that this has caused is clear. The habitat diversity of coastal wetlands and other habitats has been reduced, with clear impacts to the species that depend on these habitats. Since regulation began we have seen a steep decline in key wetland habitats like wet meadow, and in “canary-in-the-coal-mine” species such as black tern, and northern pike.
Q. Does the plan have support?
A. The plan has international support and is backed by organizations that represent thousands of people. Just a few prominent supporters include Save the River, The Nature Conservancy and WWF-Canada. These groups represent homeowners living on the lake and river, business people, environmentalists, hunters, anglers and recreational users of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario.
Q. How was Plan Bv7 developed?
A. Plan Bv7 is the result of a 10-year process that has engaged more than 180 stakeholder representatives, experts, and scientists from government agencies, academia, non-governmental organizations and business representatives in New York, Ontario, and Quebec. Six interests – hydropower, shipping, municipal water, recreational boating, shoreline property, and the environment – were at the table throughout the IJC process, and forecasting models were developed to predict how each regulation plan would impact each interest. Plan BV7 has emerged as the plan that balances the needs of these interests, without unfairly disadvantaging any particular interest. More information on the plan and how it was developed is available at the IJC web site.
Q. How will Bv7 help the environment?
A. By mimicking a more natural pattern of water level fluctuations from year to year, Plan Bv7 provides opportunities for a greater variety of wetland plants to germinate and grow. Healthy coastal wetlands display zones of plants adapted to differing frequencies of flooding and drying. When water levels are stabilized, as under the current regulation plan, one wetland zone – the cattail marsh – is artificially favored over other groups of plants. Plan Bv7 will restore diversity – of both plants and animals – for a healthier, more resilient lake and river that can support northern pike, black terns, wet meadows, and the numerous other species they represent.
Q. Will this plan cause current water levels to rise?
A. No. In fact, Plan Bv7 will not let water levels exceed what is currently allowed, except in rare instances (once a century) when levels may be exceeded by 2-3 inches. Plan Bv7 will carefully manage water levels and ensure those levels will not increase risk of flooding to shoreline property.
Q. How will Bv7 impact the region’s economy?
A. Plan Bv7 will have a positive impact on the economy. It will improve hunting and angling activities which generate significant dollars for the local economy, and will enhance hydropower production. It will improve conditions for commercial shipping and will provide, on average, higher water levels in the fall that will extend the recreational boating season. In addition, a 2007 cost-benefit analysis by the Brookings Institute demonstrates that each dollar of ecosystem restoration brings two dollars of benefits to the economy of the Great Lakes region. The restoration of shoreline habitats and species that will occur under Plan Bv7 will translate into enormous economic benefits for all citizens of the basin.
Q. How will Plan Bv7 affect shoreline property owners?
A. Plan Bv7 continues to provide shoreline property with comparable protection from flooding damage and erosion. While the cost of maintaining shoreline protection structures (such as breakwalls) may climb as a result of more fluctuating water levels, Plan BV7 continues to save shoreline property owners and municipalities an estimated $24 million a year, relative to no regulation. This savings is somewhat less than the savings of $27 million per year under the current regulation plan. However, Bv7 enables hydropower to produce $5.4 million more power and confers further benefits on shipping, outdoor recreation, and the quality of life that comes from a healthy lake and river.