U.S. Senate confirms Corwin to international body tasked with regulating lake water levels

Posted at 9:28 PM, May 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-16 21:28:49-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The organization that regulates Lake Ontario's water levels has new leadership.

The U.S. Senate confirmed Jane Corwin as the next U.S. Chairwoman of the International Joint Commission (IJC). Lawmakers also confirmed Robert Sisson and Lanche Yohe as commissioners.

The International Joint Commission (IJC) is a group of Canadians and Americans that monitors the lakes and river systems along the U.S.-Canada border with the understanding that each country is affected by the other's actions when if comes to changing water levels, flooding and erosion.

The IJC controls water levels for Lake Ontario, the Saint Lawrence River, the Ottawa River, and several smaller Canadian lakes by controlling the water flow at the Moses-Saunders Dam in Cornwell, Ontario.

Corwin joins the Commission after spending eight years as the New York State Assemblywoman representing the 144th Assembly District, which includes part of the Lake Ontario shoreline in Niagara County. President Trump nominated Corwin to the role last August at the recommendation of fellow Western New York Republican Rep. Chris Collins.

"I'm very familiar with the geography, the economy, the importance of the lake to the people in the Lake Ontario area," Corwin told 7 Eyewitness News.

Corwin says her first order of business will be to get to know the three Canadian Commissioners as well as the other two American Commissioners and discuss the team's priorities.

The IJC has come under political fire in recent years, after high water levels in Lake Ontario caused destructive flooding and erosion to properties along the American side of Lake Ontario in 2017.

Late last month, rising Lake Ontario water levels prompted fears of similar flooding, but the IJC was keeping outflows from the Moses-Saunders Dam low due to severe flooding near Montreal. The low output meant that less water was flowing toward Montreal, making water levels in Lake Ontario rise.

Corwin says she expects the new Commissioners will address new flooding concerns relatively early into their tenure.

"Given the high water levels in Lake Ontario and the flooding in Montreal and the high water levels in the other Great Lakes, I think this will be a very important issue to all of the commissioners and I imagine it would be on the top of our list of policy issues to discuss," Corwin said.

To prepare for any flooding in the meantime, Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered nearly a quarter-million sandbags be sent to Lake Ontario communities. Cuomo has also criticized the Commission, saying the group needs to do a better job regulating the water levels. But Corwin said she's not worried about political rhetoric affecting the IJC's plan of action.

"The politics don't matter," Corwin said. "The priority here is what's best for the people in the U.S and Canada, what's best for the lakes and the quality of the lakes going forward."

Corwin added that she expects to meet and discuss priorities with the many different stakeholders who are affected by IJC policy, including property owners, lawmakers, and environmentalists.