New York suing IJC over Lake Ontario water levels

by Jeff Helsdon | November 19, 2019
Sandbags hold back a rising Lake Ontario in May 2019 in Port Dalhousie. Photo by Kevin McCarthy

New York State is suing the International Joint Commission (IJC), the Canadian-American organization that manages the two countries’ border waters.

The suit alleges that the IJC mismanaged Lake Ontario water levels, resulting in flooding that the state claims caused $460 million in property damage this spring.

The IJC’s Plan 2014 is at the heart of the controversy. It took effect in 2017 and was supposed to allow for more natural water level fluctuations to restore coastal wetlands. However, at the same time as the plan was implemented, the Great Lakes started seeing increased precipitation.

Plan 2014 in crosshairs

With record high water levels across the Great Lakes, affected property owners on both sides of Lake Ontario allege Plan 2014 made the high water levels worse.

“The facts of the matter are plain: The IJC’s function is to manage the Lake Ontario water levels, and they failed — period. They have been wholly unresponsive and have taken no action to make the situation better,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a press release. “We will not shoulder the burden of the destruction that is a direct result of the IJC’s gross mismanagement of Lake Ontario water levels, and the IJC needs to compensate New York for the severe damage to the homes and businesses along the shoreline. That’s what this lawsuit is all about.”

Group aims to have plan repealed

The Lake Ontario St. Lawrence River Association, a group of shoreline property owners and businesses, is trying to have Plan 2014 repealed.

An IJC press releases state that outflows for the Moses-Saunders Dam at Cornwall, which controls Lake Ontario water levels, were at record flows through most of the summer.

A presidential executive order from 1948 designated the IJC as an international organization with “immunity from suit.”

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