LOCKPORT – The International Joint Commission will hold a public hearing Sunday night in Lockport on a new plan to govern water levels in Lake Ontario.
The plan would produce more frequent fluctuations in water levels, with high water being higher and low water being lower than under the current rules.
Niagara County officials fear that “Plan 2014” would harm lakefront property owners through increased erosion, while lower water might harm boating and sport fishing by making it harder to get boats in and out of harbors such as those at Wilson and Olcott.
“It’s the worst of both worlds,” said State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, who intends to attend the hearing.
“The (proposed) regulation will not supply the same level of protection to coastal communities,” IJC public information officer Frank Bevacqua confirmed.
The IJC tries to regulate water levels by altering flows out of the east end of the lake, past the Moses-Saunders Dam at Massena, into the St. Lawrence River.
“The water level will go up and down under any plan,” Bevacqua said. The IJC’s ability to control lake levels is limited by the supply of water flowing into the lake, and he said scientists believe the water supply is “trending downward.”
Frank Sciremammano, a Rochester Institute of Technology engineering professor who has served on the IJC control board for 18 years, said the plan will harm the south shore of the lake while protecting the Canadian shores, benefiting power generators and bowing to the preferences of environmentalists.
He said the last policy change in 2006 “was pretty biased against the south shore communities and the boating interests. This one is even worse.”
Sciremammano said Plan 2014 allows more frequent fluctuations, and the target range between high water and low water will be expanded to seven feet.
County Legislator David E. Godfrey, R-Wilson, said the current range is four feet. Bevacqua said, based on 20th century water supply averages, it’s now six feet. “Some of the impact has been exaggerated,” he said.
The up-and-down is expected to benefit the health of coastal wetlands. “The environmentalists complain the muskrat population is in jeopardy. They feed on cattails, so you have to flood the cattails,” Godfrey said.
“The health of 64,000 acres of coastal wetlands is very significant and is expected to have a major role in the health of the ecosystem,” Bevacqua said. “Muskrats are one of the indicators, but it’s not an endangered species.”
Sciremammano said the up-and-down water may help the wetlands, but the high water schedule also will correspond to periods of high electricity demand.
Thus, he said, the New York Power Authority and Ontario and Quebec hydroelectric plants will be able to produce more power when the price is highest. He estimated they will reap an annual total of $5 million in additional income.
The Rochester professor said Quebec demanded less water level fluctuation in the St. Lawrence to protect its land from erosion, but keeping high water in the lake will produce more damage on the south shore during winter storms with primarily north winds.
Bevacqua said storm compensation is up to the state and federal governments, not the IJC.
Sunday’s hearing starts at 6 p.m. in the 4-H Training Center at the Niagara County Fairgrounds, 4487 Lake Ave., Lockport. Registration of speakers starts at 5:30. Godfrey said the number is limited to the first 50 who show up.
The IJC will accept written comments through Aug. 30 before it makes a recommendation to Washington and Ottawa for action.