Plan 2014 and flooding: first in a series
The flooding that occurred in Ontario and New York State in 2017 was claimed to be a “1-in-100-year event” by most conservation and government authorities. That message was carried by the media. In many cases, environmental organizations blamed it on “climate change” as did Prime Minister Trudeau and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna stating: “This is something that is real. … We are seeing the impacts of climate change.”
Those directly involved however displayed saner thoughts as noted in a report about the event by the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board* stating: “The main cause of the exceptional 2017 spring flooding can be described easily in just a few words: rain, rain and even more rain. Unusually heavy rainfall, coinciding with melting snow that had already saturated the ground and swollen waterways, generated exceptional volumes of water in the Ottawa River basin.”
What was principally ignored in the rhetoric emanating from so many was “Plan 2014” and the fact that 2017 was the very first year the plan was implemented. Those responsible for executing the plan in the form of the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board (ILOSLRB) released a report June 21, 2018 stating: “extreme weather and water supply conditions were the primary factors that caused Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River water levels to rise to record breaking levels last year.”
The ILOSLRB however did make reference to the “plan” by claiming: “Plan 2014 did not cause or exacerbate the devastating floods and associated damages that occurred in 2017.”
So, what is Plan 2014? When the IJC (International Joint Commission) submitted “Plan 2014” to the Canadian and US governments in June 2014 it stated: “The International Joint Commission, after 14 years of scientific study and public engagement, advances Plan 2014 as the preferred option for regulating Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River water levels and flows. Scientific studies reveal that the Commission’s 1956 Orders of Approval and regulation of the flows through the power project following Plan 1958D with deviations, have harmed ecosystem health primarily by substantially degrading 26,000 hectares (64,000 acres) of shoreline wetlands. After exhaustive consideration of alternative plans, the Commission concludes that Plan 2014 offers the best opportunity to reverse some of the harm while balancing upstream and downstream uses and minimizing possible increased damage to shoreline protection structures.”
Needless to say, the rhetoric started flowing soon after the announcement as both the U.S. and Canadian IJC officials issued statements. This from the US Section Chair, Lana Pollack: “Plan 2014 is a modern plan for managing water levels and flows that will restore the health and diversity of coastal wetlands, perform better under changing climate conditions and continue to protect against extreme high and low water levels”.
And this from Canadian Section Chair Gordon Walker: “We are pleased that Plan 2014 will bring system-wide improvements, with consideration of ecosystem health and recreational boating along with shoreline communities, commercial navigation and hydropower production”. In particular, this from the IJC announcement is noteworthy, now that we have experienced two out of three years of 1-in-one hundred year floods since Plan 2014 was implemented: “Allowing for more natural variations of water levels, the plan will foster the conditions needed to restore 26,000 hectares (64,000 acres) of coastal wetlands and improve habitat for fish and wildlife. The plan will also frequently extend the recreational boating season, better maintain system-wide levels for navigation and increase hydropower production.”
Sounds like Utopia!
Needless to say, the many environmental groups and townships that had supported Plan 2014 via a letter to President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau were quick to exclaim their excitement after the IJC announcement, but presumably, politicians in places like Ogdensburg, Clayton and Alexandria in NY State must be upset as their support of Plan 2014 has resulted in major flooding in 2017 and again in 2019.
Other supporters of Plan 2014 included WWF-Canada (World Wildlife Fund) and CELA (Canadian Environmental Law Association). David Miller, (former Mayor of Toronto) and then President of WWF-Canada was ecstatic and basically echoed the claims of the IJC announcement and included this observation; “restoring more than 260 sq. km of wetlands, boosting hydropower production, and increasing the resilience of hundreds of kilometres of shoreline in Canada and the United States.“
Prior to the December 8, 2016 IJC announcement the first Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Parliament Hill Days were held in Ottawa with many parliamentarians taking part including Canadian Environment Minister, Catherine McKenna as well as IJC officials and environmental groups that included WWF-Canada, CELA and Environmental Defence Canada. The event took place in late October 2016.
The “second” Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Parliament Hill Days gala in November 2017 didn’t celebrate “Plan 2014” or speak to the 1-in-100 year flood that had occurred earlier in the year. Instead it was about the Great Lakes restoration funding and Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, reminisced about “her childhood dream of being able to swim in Hamilton Harbour.”
Stay tuned for Chapter 2 in this series that will delve into some of the background of Plan 2014.
*The Board consists of seven members, each with an alternate, who represent Canada (3 members) Ontario (2 members and Quebec (2 members)