The International Joint Commission (IJC) is open to the idea of scrapping Plan 2014 if that’s what an upcoming review recommends.
The IJC announced earlier this week it plans to “review” its controversial Plan 2014, the policy that regulates water levels along the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, and during an online seminar Friday administrators suggested they’re open to any recommendations stemming from the review – including the idea of throwing out the plan entirely.
Jane Corwin, co-chair of the IJC, said the agency’s job is to protect the interests of everyone involved, including shoreline property owners, and it wants to do “whatever is best and suits the interests of the stakeholders of the system.”
“If it means scrapping the plan, we’ll scrap the plan,” Corwin said Friday.
Officials maintained, however, the plan itself is not the cause of the high water; Lake Ontario has seen record inflow from its feeder systems, and high precipitation in the basin has exacerbated the problem, she added.
Despite the insistence that no regulation plan would be able properly to mitigate the high water, the board has been “deviating” from Plan 2014 since November in an effort to prevent flooding this spring.
“We really aren’t following Plan 2014 and we haven’t for months,” Corwin said, adding the board will continue to deviate “for months going forward.”
The plan sets out the limit for how much water can be let out at any given time, so deviating allows the IJC to release “unprecedented” amounts of water out of the dam, she said. But the amount of water coming in is “beyond the capacity of the system.”
“In the last three years outflows have been substantially above average,” Corwin said.
“The reality is the water level is affected as much by the amount of water coming in as the policies for letting water out.”
Over the last “three years and three months” there have only been two weeks that the water coming into the system has been considered average, she said.
And while outflows have been at record high rates, it still still can’t match inflow.
The fact they’re deviating from their plan is not an indication the plan is at fault, an engineer for the agency explained.
“Deviations are not a sign the plan is failing. It’s part of the overall regime,” said David Fay, an engineering adviser for the IJC.
“Deviating means the board can better assess the actual conditions from moment-to-moment,” he said, adding the “whole idea of the deviation” is so the board can make discretionary decisions in the short term “to balance the needs of all stakeholders.”
The IJC received a combined $3 million in funding from both the United States and Canadian governments “to investigate possible improvements that could be made to Lake Ontario outflow regulation activities.”
This effort will be managed by the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management (GLAM) Committee, a sub-committee to the IJC’s river board, the International Niagara Board of Control, and the International Lake Superior Board of Control.
The review will take 18 to 24 months and “will focus on gathering information to help inform the critical decisions needed to best manage these extreme conditions.”
In the meantime, IJC officials plan to continue deviating from Plan 2014 and letting out the “maximum” amount of water they can before the shipping season opens on Apr. 1.
If by the time Mar. 31 comes around the water is still at dangerously high levels, Corwin said they will reevaluate to see if an extended closure will be required.