Blame It on Mother Nature (3)

In the first article in this series, I looked at the 2017 flooding in Ontario, the implementation of Plan 2014, and its cost to Lake Ontario shorelines. Next, I outlined details on the plan and how it came into being within the confines of the IJC in a secretive way.  I also described the 2019 flooding and the rising costs that may have elicited future law suits against the IJC (International Joint Commission) with one possibly coming from the State of New York.

Today, I will try to capture some of the impacts to communities on the shores of Lake Ontario.

The flooding occurring in the community of PEC (Prince Edward County) in 2017 resulted in the local council declaring a “state of emergency” but in 2019 they didn’t!  Council’s reasoning in 2019 was that because tourism is a major economic benefit to the county, declaring an emergency could have a detrimental economic effect.  Additionally, any flood-related compensation from the province would require significant expenditures by the county before becoming accessible.

PEC’s not declaring an “emergency” brought about an interesting event. A local paper, The Picton Gazette, received a letter from the Co-chairs of the ILOSTRB (International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board).  The letter noted the fact that the county didn’t declare an emergency. The letter placed the blame for 2019 flood on good old “Mother Nature” and claimed Plan 2014 was not at fault.  The letter said nothing about reducing water levels during the fall of 2018 or the winter of 2019 to free reservoir space for the record snowfalls, but did admit to constraint (lower out flow at the Moses- Saunders Dam) in the spring run-off, blaming it on the Ottawa River flow being at record volumes.

New York State, unlike PEC, declared a state of emergency in mid-May along the 326-mile Lake Ontario shoreline for all eight counties. It was called by Governor Cuomo. As noted in my first article, it is ironic that support for Plan 2014 came from some of the same communities now caught up in the “state of emergency”.

Back in Ontario, United Shoreline Ontario did an impressive presentation for Cobourg’s council in June 2019 which highlights what they view as some of the causes of flooding in 2017 and 2019 and strongly suggest Plan 2014 played a role. They point to how “Plan 2014 allows for “higher highs and lower lows” in the human-managed water levels of Lake Ontario.” They also note those “higher highs put Ontarians at greater risk of severe and violent flooding.” A little bit further east on the northern Lake Ontario shoreline the City of Belleville city council on June 25, 2019 “agreed to align with Prince Edward County, the City of Quinte West and Brighton in asking both governments to suspend Plan 2014.”

Belleville’s position was similar to that expressed by US politicians. As one example: In a June 18, 2019 article “Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is the latest elected official who says Plan 2014, a water regulatory plan for Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, isn’t working. He wants the International Joint Commission, a bi-national panel consisting of members from the U.S. and Canada, to reexamine the plan.” Apparently, Schumer isn’t alone as the article goes on to state: “Not only are there elected officials who agree, but business owners and residents echo calls to do something with Plan 2014.” That article also noted: “Any talk of repealing Plan 2014 has been rejected by current and former Canadian commissioners who support the plan.”

It also appears that because the flood effects are lingering, that resentment against the IJC and Plan 2014 are growing. As an example, an article on Buffalo’s NPR News Station noted: “Ask many homeowners along the southern shore of Lake Ontario and they will point to the new lake level management plan — called Plan 2014 — as the cause behind these high levels. But it’s not just residents who blame the plan. I think it’s detrimental,” said Greece Town Supervisor Bill Reilich. “All you gotta do is look at the shoreline and I can say that since this new plan’s put in — two out of three years, we got flooding.”

Another article on July 17, 2019 said NY Governor Cuomo has pledged US $300 million in aid that must be matched by 15% from the local community. This amount is three times state funding after the 2017 flooding. This time the money is focused on resiliency!   This article was about flooding issues in Clayton, NY, a tourist area and notes in particular that “Marinas are closed, restaurants are having trouble opening up. It’s still a great place to visit, but there are still some problems.“ These are the same issues facing much of Ontario’s shorelines.

In Chapter 1 the Canadian Section Chair Gordon Walker was quoted after Plan 2014 was endorsed by outgoing US President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau stating: “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”.

While this writer won’t opine on how the “consideration” helped “commercial navigation and hydropower production,” it is obvious that recreational boating, ecosystem health and shoreline communities have failed to see any benefits from Plan 2014. The tourism industry in both NY and Ontario has suffered badly from the two flood years and the damage to shoreline properties has cost hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to residential, businesses and municipalities-yet the IJC continue to defend it! They do so despite the flooding.

To be clear, the International Lake Ontario St. Lawrence River Board* must execute the directions they receive from IJC and they in turn can order OPG and the New York Power Authority to alter water flows.

They do as they are told no matter the consequences and shoreline residents, businesses and municipalities pay the price!

PARKER GALLANT

*”The duties of the Board shall be to ensure that the provisions of the Order relating to water levels and the regulation of the discharge of water from Lake Ontario and the flow of water through the International Rapids Section as herein set out are complied with, and Ontario Power Generation and the New York Power Authority shall duly observe any direction given them by the Board for the purpose of ensuring such compliance.”

 

 

Blame it on Mother Nature — 2

A small slice of the wetlands Plan 2014 has created in and around Lake Ontario

In the first part of this series I dealt with the implementation of Plan 2014 and its claimed non-causation by the IJC (International Joint Commission) and others as the genesis of the 2017 flooding on the shorelines of Lake Ontario costing residents, businesses and municipalities hundreds of millions of dollars.

Mother Nature was clearly the cause, was the message doled out!

Those with some knowledge of Plan 2014 or curiosity about its potential effects however wanted more information. Some of those seeking more information emanated in New York State and resulted in a “New York Senate Hearing” on October 10, 2017. It is a bit disconcerting when examining some of the testimony from those who played a role in developing the plan. As one example; Bill Werick, a member of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management Committee was asked: “Do you believe the trigger level* is set too high, given what’s happened this past year?” His response included the following: “the fact is, is that, as Mr. Durrett said, our forecasts for one month out are really not very skilful.”

The real damning testimony in respect to Plan 2014 came from Frank Sciremammano, Jr., Ph.D., P.E. Professor (retired) of Engineering, Rochester Institute of Technology and International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board. Mr. Sciremammano after describing his involvement in the development of three alternate plans stated: “Plan 2014 is not one of the recommended plans from the IJC study, and, in fact, it violates three of the principal guidelines of that study.”

Later in his testimony he stated: “the IJC withdrew its proposal, and formed a new secret working group of representatives only. They worked in secret. Nobody knew who was on the committee. Nobody knew when they met. No minutes. No freedom of information. After a while they came out with a new version of Plan B+, which they recommended, which was termed “Bv7” for Plan B, ** Version 7.”

And he further testified: “After some further secret negotiations, the working group came up with Plan 2014, which is just Plan Bv7, but with a slight modification to add trigger levels.”

As noted in my first instalment, Plan 2014 was supposedly aimed at reversing “some of the harm” to shoreline wetlands by allowing higher water levels that would flood them and reverse the “harm”! Interestingly enough, the IISD (International Institute for Sustainable Development), self-described as an independent think tank championing sustainable solution to 21st century problems and funded via grants from the Federal Government ($7.8 million in 2018), UN agencies, etc. conducted a study to determine how flooding affected emissions of carbon dioxide and methane. Their conclusion: “We found that both carbon dioxide and methane, an especially potent greenhouse gas, were produced in higher levels after flooding, suggesting that reservoirs can be sources of GHGs.”

Their review also found “reservoirs should be designed to maximize flooding in areas with thin soils and little vegetation and to minimize flooding in areas with large stores of carbon, such as wetlands. “***

What the foregoing suggests is the issues and harm causing “climate change” are far from being settled despite the billions of tax dollars directed to and spent by those who profess to be experts. The question arising out of the conflict raised by the IISD report and Plan 2014 should be worrying as the latter has cost shoreline residents, businesses and municipalities of Lake Ontario shorelines hundreds of millions of dollars. It was done in an effort to reverse “harm” as defined by those who developed Plan “Bv7” identified by Mr. Sciremammano in his testimony to the Senate Hearing.

The flooding that occurred in 2017 and its repeat in 2019 raised the ire of city, town and community politicians in many shoreline communities in both New York and Ontario. They are demanding abandonment of Plan 2014 and compensation for costs incurred by their residents, businesses and communities. New York State Governor Cuomo wrote a June 8 2019 letter to the IJC and in it he states: “The IJC was put on notice in 2017 when the Lake set high-water level records and should have been aware of the present danger from the massive snowpack and likelihood of continued rains into the spring of this year. Yet, rather than acting, the IJC continued the status quo, resulting in more flooding and more property damage in New York. We demand that the IJC make New York whole for its millions in unreimbursed expenditures, and that the IJC modify its water management and planning to reduce the flooding and damage being done to New York’s shoreline communities.”

One wonders if Governor Cuomo was aware of Bill Werick’s answer to a question about the “trigger level” and his response was: “the fact is, is that, as Mr. Durrett said, our forecasts for one month out are really not very skilful.“

Perhaps it’s time to become more skilful and that applies to those appointed to manage the system. Governor Cuomo’s letter in the case of Canada was directed to our recently appointed Canadian Chair of the IJC, The Honorable Merrell-Ann Phare.   Ms. Phare holds a Master of Laws (LL.M.) Aboriginal Water Rights and International Trade Law and appears to reside in Winnipeg. While I am sure she is competent it seems strange that her skill sets don’t align with what one would expect as the Co-Chair of the IJC.

On the issue of the IJC and the 2019 floods, their Public Interest Advisory Group (PIAG) now have a survey available on their website (not in an obvious place) which asks questions about high and low water levels, damage to shorelines, recreational boating and the environment and wetlands. Personal encounters by the author with shoreline businesses, residential property owners and local politicians indicated (to the writer) they were unaware of the survey.

One has to wonder, was posting of the survey’s intent to seek feedback or to suggest they were actually concerned about the two 1-in-100-year flood events in the three years since “Plan 2014” was enacted?

Next in the series I will look at shoreline harm and expressions of dissent by those affected.

PARKER GALLANT

*The “trigger level” refers to when water should be allowed to flow or be retained.                                

**Plan B was the environmental plan aimed at maximizing the environmental benefits.

***A flavor of the IISD study? The 2017 floods killed 7 trees on our property–former carbon sinks.

 

Blame it on Mother Nature

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.”

Plan 2014 was blessed by US President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau December 5, 2016 and the IJC announced they would move on the “Plan” on December 8, 2016!

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.

PARKER GALLANT

*The Board consists of seven members, each with an alternate, who represent Canada (3 members) Ontario (2 members and Quebec (2 members)

Do wind turbines contribute to flooding?

A look at how water flows are managed brings up a few questions …

[ Ashley Fraser/Postmedia]
The Government of Ontario recently announced their plans to initiate “an internal task force that will consult with our municipal partners and other stakeholders in impacted areas on ways to improve the province’s resilience to flooding.” The announcement occurred as many areas in Ontario experienced water levels approaching the 2017 levels. Since then water levels in Lake Ontario have surpassed those of 2017 as noted in the Democrat & Chronicle: “The water level in Lake Ontario hit a modern-day high on Friday, exceeding by a sliver the record set just two years ago.”

Flooding in Lake Ontario is not a new event as that story noted: it “has happened in seven spring-summer periods since 1918, when record-keeping began: 1993, 1974, 1973, 1952, 1951, 1947 and 1943. The lake’s waters rose very close to 248 feet* on four other occasions dating as far back as 1929.”

The parties involved in managing water levels are numerous and include the IJC (International Joint Commission) which controls the Moses-Saunders dam between Cornwall, Ontario and Massena, New York. That dam controls the water levels in the Great Lakes to try and prevent flooding along the St. Lawrence River.

As well, the Ottawa River Planning Board was established to ensure integrated management of the principal reservoirs of the Ottawa River Basin.  Members on this Board include representation from OPG and Hydro Quebec as well as Federal Government members.  Interestingly, IESO, who manage Ontario’s electricity grid, are not members; yet on a minute by minute basis, IESO determine the flows for generation and spillage of almost all hydro dams in Ontario.

As if all this wasn’t enough to create complexity in water management, back in December 2016 the IJC adopted “Plan 2014” aimed at increasing “wetlands” in the Great Lakes. It was endorsed by Prime Minister Trudeau and President Obama.  Its effect was aimed at raising lake levels to create wetlands after lobbying efforts by people who thought this was good for the environment.  The IJC said, the lake will often be a bit higher than it had been in the spring and fall, and roughly the same in summertime.

Now the IJC and all the other bodies involved in managing the water levels are blaming good old “Mother Nature” for the 2017 and 2019 events! The floods occurred despite the record snowfalls being reported by weather stations throughout the first three months of 2019. Record snowfalls generally signal major spring runoffs.

So, let’s look at 2019 and review the first three months of specific electricity generation in Ontario and compare it to the same three months in 2017 to see what might be different and determine if it raises a question—did wind power generation play a role in causing flooding in 2019?

If you look at the IESO’s “Generator Output by Fuel Type Monthly Report” for the first three months of 2017 you see grid-accepted wind power generation was 3,462.5 GWh (gigawatt hours); in 2019 it was 3,919.7 GWh or 12.9% higher.  Curtailed wind** on the other hand decreased from 635.7 GWh to 225.2 GWh which was a decrease of 410.5 GWh or 64.4%.   Coincidentally, that decrease was almost equal to the higher grid-accepted wind amount and also coincidentally quite close to the decrease in SBG (surplus baseload generation) spillage by hydro dams as noted below.

Looking at grid-accepted hydro for those three months, we note in 2017 it was 9,544.1 GWh and in 2019 was 9,787.5 GWh, an increase of only 243.4 GWh or 2.6%. Hydro spillage for SBG in 2019 was 0.3 TWh (terawatt hours) whereas in 2017 it was 0.8 TWh (also in 2018), a drop of 0.5 TWh or 64%.

So another question is: why was SBG spillage in the first three of 2019 about 500 GWh less, while Ontario’s demand during those same three months was up by 1,411.1 GWh?

One would expect when a major spring melt is anticipated, reducing water levels in reservoirs from mid-February into March would be the accepted practice in order to alleviate flooding later. The spring melt from tributaries deliver the melted snow to places like the Ottawa River basin where its funneled for run-off or held in those reservoirs.

For the 2019 flooding, the question becomes: did IESO favour industrial wind turbines (IWT) over either increased hydro generation or reduced spillage? OPG is paid for SBG spillage as are IWT developments for curtailed wind.  Paying for curtailed wind while allowing more hydro generation and/or spillage may well have resulted in less flood damage costs which in 2017 were estimated at $200 million!  This year’s cost could be higher.

One would hope the Ontario government’s “internal task force” investigates the above issues to more effectively understand all the reasons for the excess flooding and not simply blame “Mother Nature”!

PARKER GALLANT

*Refers to “above sea level”.

**Thanks to Scott Luft who tracks both grid-accepted and distributed curtailed wind.