Today, The Nature Conservancy applauded the International Joint Commission’s (IJC) decision to schedule public hearings for its newly-released “Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Plan 2014,” an updated version of Plan Bv7, which the IJC originally released in January, 2012.
While the Conservancy continues to review new information released by the IJC today, the organization is encouraged by the way Plan 2014 maintains critical benefits for nature and people while incorporating new strategies designed to address the concerns of some shoreline property owners. The Conservancy has consistently supported a more modern and scientific approach to water levels in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River that takes climate change and the protection of critical natural resources into account and has contributed its experience with dam management and coastal restoration toward creating a plan that balances the needs of many different stakeholders.
“Fifty years of unnatural flow conditions and water levels has caused damage to the Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River ecosystem and the livelihoods and well-being of the people who depend upon it,” said Jim Howe, The Nature Conservancy’s director in Central & Western New York.
“We’ve learned a great deal about water management over five decades, and it’s time to implement those findings. Allowing more natural variations in water levels, while moderating extreme levels, can benefit the environment, the regional economy and property owners,” said Howe. “We didn’t get everything we wanted in this revised plan, but we think it does a good job balancing the concerns of all interests.”
The current regulation plan for Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River was developed in the 1950s with the construction of the Moses-Saunders Dam and has reduced the range of water levels to the point of causing extensive damage to coastal wetlands that perform services like filtering water, providing habitat for fish and protecting communities from floods.
Following ten years of study and input from more than 180 stakeholder representatives, the IJC released Plan Bv7 to help repair this damage. Since then, support for a modern and scientific approach to water levels has steadily grown. Plan Bv7 was endorsed by businesses, business advocacy groups, environmental, conservation and sportsmen organizations, and received over 9,770 expressions of citizen support. Recreational boating, hunting, fishing, hydroelectric production and shipping all are strengthened under the new approach, while shoreline property owners continue to receive protection from erosion and flooding.
Still, lingering concerns from shoreline property owners prompted the IJC to make further adjustments. With the release of Plan 2014, the IJC has introduced “trigger levels” to its proposal, which will allow special action to deviate from the plan when lake water levels exceed or drop below certain points. These “triggers” are expected to lessen the negative impacts of the wider range of water levels allowed under the new proposal.
“The Nature Conservancy is pleased to see this change and recognizes the need to collaborate on finding additional solutions for those facing the challenges of maintaining properties in a changing climate. These challenges are common to both Atlantic and Great Lakes shorelines, and we support the recommendations in the Governor’s 2100 Commission report to help communities adapt,” said Howe.
“The time is now to update how we manage our infrastructure to play to the strengths of our natural systems instead of against them. The last time we had this opportunity was 1963. It may be decades before we get another chance.”
To learn more, please visit http://www.nature.org/bv7.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.