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)