Shippers and shore dwellers may suffer the effects of low water
levels again this year, unless Mother Nature sees fit to provide a rainy
spring and summer.
Environment Canada's Peter Yee says Lake Ontario is lower now
than it was at this time last year and unless a significant amount of wet
weather comes this way, water levels will peak in June well below average.
"The situation is a little bit better by the day, but levels are still
below average for this time of year," Yee said.
Water levels reached their lowest point on New Year's Day, at
74.26 metres above sea level. Though levels have risen 36 centimetres
since, the lake is just 21 centimetres above average, says Yee.
Last year at this time, water levels were 69 centimetres above
average but by fall people who rely on the lake faced hardship:
- Major shippers were forced to reduce cargo to get through
the St. Lawrence Seaway.
- The Amherst Island ferry was put out of commission because car
ramps couldn't reach the docks.
- Dozens of rural wells ran dry.
Though Kingston-area residents suffered, the International Joint
Commission had to allow higher than normal water output through
Seaway locks to keep Montreal harbour, the core of Canada's container
shipping industry, deep enough for ship traffic. Even with that, the
harbour experienced record lows.
Critics say the International Joint Commission let too much
water flow out of Lake Ontario last year in anticipation of flooding after
the ice storm, creating a problem that went unnoticed until it was too
Yee concedes higher than normal flows were allowed out of
the lake, but he says the problem of low water levels was caused by a
dry summer and fall.
By its own admission, the International Joint Commission has
been unsuccessful in trying to regulate water levels since it built a
series of dams between Kingston and Montreal in the late 1950's.
"Since the regulation of outflows from Lake Ontario began in
1960, water supplies more extreme than those experienced prior to
regulation have occcurred," says a study undertaken by the
International St. Lawrence River Board of Control, the Canadian body
that oversees water levels.
In response, the board devised a new flow plan which was
supposed to go into effect in January this year. But at the last minute,
the commission decided to stick with the old plan - D1958 ~ which
allows significant discretion in adjusting outflows to prevent flooding
or increase supply.
Yee won't speculate on the amount of precipitation that might
fall on the Kingston region this summer or on how much water flows
might have to be adjusted as a result.
"Even the weatherman won't stick his neck out past five days,"