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e-2300 (Environment)

E-petition
Initiated by Thornley Stoker from Kingston, Ontario

Original language of petition: English

Petition to the House of Commons

Whereas:
  • Damages unfairly suffered by riparian municipalities, businesses and residents on Lake Ontario and the Upper St. Lawrence River due to record high water levels in 2017 and 2019 have been unprecedented;
  • Present conditions fail to abide by the International Joint Commission (IJC) Plan 2014 guideline “If damages result from any plan, they should not fall disproportionately on any one geographic area or interest group”;
  • During extreme high water levels critical infrastructure (shoal markers) become ineffective thus creating new threats to river safety; and
  • The IJC and the International Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River Board (ILOSLRB) have the power to mitigate damages.
We, the undersigned, citizens of Canada living in Ontario along the banks of Lake Ontario and the Upper St. Lawrence River, call upon the House of Commons, given environmental, economic, social and cultural impacts to our lake and river communities due to the catastrophic effects of the extreme high waters, to request that the Canadian government instruct that the IJC and the ILOSLRB immediately take corrective actions to mitigate forecasted flooding in 2020, specifically:
1. Initiate a program of patterning or either close the seaway early or open it later for shipping to allow greater volumes of water to be drained.
2. Use extraordinary measures to target Lake Ontario level of 244.4 feet above sea level, 1 foot above chart datum (243.3 feet), which will make room to accommodate over 1.2 feet in additional water from all uncontrollable supply sources; and
3. Further increase the L-limit deviation similar to the 1986 fall season’s defensive actions, when outflows FAR exceeded the current L-limit+200 approach.

Response by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Signed by (Minister or Parliamentary Secretary): The Honourable JONATHAN WILKINSON

The International Joint Commission (IJC) was created in 1909 under the Boundary Waters Treaty to prevent and resolve transboundary water disputes between Canada and the United States. The IJC is an independent organization that impartially serves both Canada and the United States (U.S.).

The IJC’s International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board (the Board) manages outflows of Lake Ontario at the Moses-Saunders Dam. Plan 2014 is the water level regulation plan administered by the Board. Following 15 years of scientific study and consultations, the Canadian and U.S. governments agreed to Plan 2014, which the IJC implemented to restore the health and diversity of coastal wetlands and take into account changing climate conditions.

In June 2019, in response to the exceptionally high water levels, the Board raised outflow levels higher than prescribed in Plan 2014, and the IJC Commissioners granted the Board authority to continue to keep outflows at the maximum rate possible, while taking into account the need to balance impacts on property owners and maintain safe conditions in the basin. During winter 2020, the Board regulated outflows of Lake Ontario such that as much water as possible would be removed from the basin before the spring melt.

In March 2020, the Board raised outflows beyond safe navigation limits until the St. Lawrence Seaway opened for commercial navigation on April 1, 2020. The April 1 date for opening the Seaway was later than ice conditions would have allowed. The Board maintained high outflows, delaying the start of the commercial shipping season, because the Board determined it would be able to remove a meaningful amount of water by raising outflows during that period. Data suggested that further delaying the opening of the Seaway for the 2020 season would not have resulted in a meaningful reduction of water levels on Lake Ontario. The Board continues to determine outflows at the Moses-Saunders Dam based on conditions in the basin and considering the needs of shoreline communities.

The Government of Canada has confidence in the IJC and is committed to working collaboratively with provinces and territories, as well as municipalities and local authorities, to prevent and mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events—such as flooding—on Canadians.

Response by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Signed by (Minister or Parliamentary Secretary): The Honourable Chrystia Freeland

The security and vitality of the communities bordering the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes is a priority for the Government of Canada.

 

The International Joint Commission (IJC) is an independent, binational organization established by the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. Its purpose is to help prevent and resolve disputes relating to the use and quality of boundary waters and to advise Canada and the United States on related questions. As the IJC retains the authority to manage its orders, any decisions to alter Plan 2014 or deviate from the conditions set out therein, would be decided by the Commission.

 

The International Lake Ontario St. Lawrence River Board (the Board) is responsible for implementing the conditions set out in Plan 2014 and any deviation from the regulation plan if the conditions of criterion H14 (high water trigger levels) are met. The decision to deviate includes paying close attention to water levels in the Great Lakes upstream of Lake Ontario and to the downstream St. Lawrence River, taking into consideration all effects of water levels on both sides of the basin.  The Board’s website provides weekly updates on water levels, flow, and current condition.

 

In direct contrast to its predecessor, Plan 2014 aims to restore the health and diversity of coastal wetlands, while balancing multiple interests – including those of riparians – in accordance with the Treaty. To develop Plan 2014, many stakeholders in Canada and the United States, with various interests, were consulted and shared their views. These views were considered in the Plan’s development and are reflected in the Board’s authority to deviate. Changing climatic conditions and low or high water conditions were also factored into the decision-making process outlined in Plan 2014. 

 

Since the spring of 2019, water levels in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence system have been higher than what has been recorded since the mid 1980s. The Ottawa River, which flows into the St. Lawrence River downstream of Cornwall, was also at historic highs. The 2019 flood was the largest spring flood on the Ottawa River in recent history, surpassing the significant 2017 flood event in many portions of the river. Not since 1928 has flooding affected so many areas along the river, from Lake Timiskaming down to the Montréal region.

 

Since June 2019, the Board has been deviating from Plan 2014 to address the extreme high water level conditions in both Canada and the United States. From June 2019 through the end of August 2019 the Board maintained outflows at the Moses-Saunders dam at 10,400 metres3/second, an outflow rate, which has been rarely exceeded since regulation began. More water was released from Lake Ontario during the last seven months of 2019 than in any year since the start of records in 1900. The average outflow from June to December was equivalent to removing 9.1 metres of water from the Lake during this time.

 

On March 18, 2020, the Board announced that it had amended its temporary deviation strategies to allow for additional increases to the rate of water removed from Lake Ontario through the spring, while still considering the impacts that these flow increases will have on other interests of the system. While an outflow strategy can influence water levels, the principal drivers are weather and the outflows from Lake Erie and the Ottawa River. The amount of additional lowering that can be achieved through deviations depends mostly on weather and water supply conditions, not on the regulation plan.

Open for signature
January 28, 2020, at 9:10 a.m. (EDT)
Closed for signature
February 27, 2020, at 9:10 a.m. (EDT)
Presented to the House of Commons
Mark Gerretsen (Kingston and the Islands)
March 9, 2020 (Petition No. 431-00138)
Government response tabled
May 25, 2020
Photo - Mark Gerretsen
Kingston and the Islands
Liberal Caucus
Ontario
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