OLCOTT BEACH, N.Y. (WKBW) — Niagara County Emergency Services Director Jonathan Schultz tells 7 Eyewitness News that levels on Lake Ontario are 4 to 5 inches higher than they were at this time a year ago.
Should people who live along the shoreline, in places like Olcott Beach and Wilson, be worried? "I wouldn't say worried. I think we need to be prepared," said Schultz.
Several Niagara County officials traveled to Olcott Beach to check on the lake and the precautions taken so far to prevent problems.
"It is the wave action that is really going to cause the big problems. With the higher waters, the wave action can triple the height," added Niagara County Legislator David Godfrey.
Shoreline areas in Niagara County saw widespread flooding and damage from record water levels in 2017 and 2019. With Lake Ontario on-pace to break those records, officials said they will be working with the NYS Office of Emergency Management to make sure sandbags and pumps are ready to go.
Many have blamed an international agreement called "Plan 2014" for the problems. The plan regulates how much water can be drained out of Lake Ontario through the Moses-Saunders Power Dam on the St. Lawrence River.
"The minute they implemented that new plan, we had flooding," explained John Syracuse, Vice Chairman for the Niagara County Legislature.
The International Joint Commission (IJC) defends "Plan 2014" claiming record rainfall and snow melt-off, combined with higher water levels on all the Great Lakes, caused the problems in 2017 and 2019.
Now after years of complaints that not enough water was allowed to outflow through the dam earlier in the year, the International Lake Ontario - St. Lawrence River Board has been given permission by the IJC to permit record outflows through the spring - possibly into April 2020.
"That is significant as it's doing exactly what we have said through the years; let the water out and start early," added David Godfrey.
Will it work?
"It is a matter of wait and see," said Town of Newfane Supervisor Tim Horanburg.
The following press release was issued by the International Lake Ontario - St. Lawrence River Board:
"The International Lake Ontario–St. Lawrence River Board agreed on February 21 to continue deviating from Plan 2014 and maximize outflows through the spring.
As was the case in January, outflow for the month of February is expected to set a new record. Without the record outflows employed since the beginning of the year, water levels would be even higher than they are currently.
Because the risk of a high water event on Lake Ontario remains elevated, the Board agreed to continue maximizing flows through March 31. The Seaways Corporations have announced the date of April 1 for the opening of the 2020 navigation season for the Montreal to Lake Ontario section of the seaway. The April 1 opening allows for outflows to continue in excess of prescribed safe limits for navigation through the end of March.
The Board’s outflow strategy for April will be determined at a later date based on conditions upstream and downstream at the time and in consideration of all interests."