Boating in Canada Archive

Lake Ontario water levels 1999

Lake Ontario is lower than last year

The Kingston Whig-Standard, Wed 14 Apr 1999
by Annette Phillips)

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:

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 late.

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," he said.
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