Lighthouse on the St. Lawrence River
Water Level Regulations Detrimental to Health of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River
For the past 50 years, the St. Lawrence Water Control Board of the International Joint Commission (IJC) has controlled St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario water levels for commercial interests, following the installation of the Moses-Saunders hydropower dam. Decades of artificially controlled water levels have damaged the environment by eliminating significant habitat for fish and wildlife. In 2008, the IJC proposed a new regulation plan for Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River that would maintain the status quo, known as "Plan 2007".
Almost 5,000 CCE members signed petitions and wrote 1,260 letters to Secretary Condoleeza Rice and IJC Public Information Officer Frank Bevacqua articulating strong opposition to the initially proposed business-as-usual "Plan 2007", while supporting a firm deadline for implementing more naturally fluctuating water levels, a plan commonly referred to as "B+". As a result of overwhelming public opposition to Plan 2007, the IJC—the bi-national body that regulates shared waters of the United States and Canada— formed a workgroup to develop regulations "based on a revised set of goals, objectives and criteria, specifically moving towards more natural flows to benefit the environment, while respecting other interests." Read the September 4, 2008 letter that articulates the Commission’s decision.
Problems with the Current Approach
A healthy coastal environment requires natural fluctuations in water levels to support healthy wetlands and diverse habitat for aquatic wildlife and birds. Under the current approach, naturally fluctuating water levels have been replaced with one prolonged high and low tide annually. For this reason, coastal habitats in the Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River Basin have been declining since the construction of the Moses Saunders dam:
- Meadow marsh ecosystems have reduced by more than 50%. Meadow marsh plays a critical role in maintaining biological diversity as nesting and spawning grounds for birds and fish;
- Northern Pike populations have declined 70%. Northern Pike, popular in sport fishery, are considered a top predator for frogs, insects, and leeches;
- Black Tern populations have declined by 80%. Black Terns, a meadow marsh nesting bird, is now labeled as a threatened species in New York and a species of Special Concern in Ontario;
- Muskrat habitat has nearly disappeared. Muskrats are considered ecosystem engineers as they dig holes and create openings in vegetation that are used as habitats for other species.
Plan Bv7 - A Modern Balanced Approach to Lake Ontario Water Levels
The International Joint Commission (IJC) is now considering a more natural method to managing water levels known as Plan Bv7, which is currently in draft form. Plan Bv7 will return water levels to a more natural cycle while managing the extremes. Plan Bv7 is a more balanced approach that considers impacts to the environment, shoreline communities, recreational boating, hydropower production, and the economy. The new approach was developed over the course of ten years with input from scientists, academia, government agencies, environmental organizations, and members of the public. Plan Bv7 provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore coastal ecosystems and improve the health of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Sign the online petition in support of Bv7!
Plan Bv7 Will Restore the Coastal Environment
Frequently changing water levels will give the meadow marsh a chance to regenerate. Plan Bv7 has the potential to:
- Increase meadow marsh habitat by 40% allowing vital bird, fish, and mammal populations to thrive;
- Restore Northern Pike populations and increase fishing opportunities;
- Increase Black Tern and other marsh-nesting bird populations;
- Reestablish muskrat habitat
Plan Bv7 Stabilizes the Shoreline
The proposed Bv7 plan allows for more natural flows, which will improve wetlands. Wetlands help protect from flooding and protect against wave action. Plan Bv7 will rebuild the sandy shorelines. The absence of naturally occurring low water levels had swept away the sandy shorelines and replaced them with large rocks and stones.
Plan Bv7 Benefits the Economy
Recreational activities such as boating, fishing, and swimming are dependent upon healthy lakes and rivers attracting tourism and driving local economies. If implemented properly, Plan Bv7 will:
- Extend the recreational boating season. Avoiding the rapid draw-down and extended low tide period will increase boating opportunities and generate additional revenue for local economies;
- Improve commercial shipping. Natural flow cycles reduce shipping delays caused by unusually low water levels;
- Enhance hydropower production in the United States and Canada;
- Maintain sustainable populations of wildlife, which is essential for local economies to generate revenue from recreational activities such as hunting, fishing, and bird-watching; and
- Benefit the economy of the Great Lakes region. Every dollar spent restoring the Great Lakes region nets a return of two dollars to benefit the economy, according to a 2007 Brookings Institution cost-benefit analysis.
The St. Lawrence has become one of North America’s most important and most threatened rivers. Restoring more natural flows, as proposed under Plan Bv7, is a critical step to ensuring the overall health and longevity of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence ecosystem and the communities and economies that depend on it.
- You support more natural flows for Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, which will benefit the health of the lake and river.
- You support Plan Bv7!
Updated by bsmith 7/25/12