Governor urges IJC to maintain or increase Lake Ontario outflows

Posted 29 March 2018 at 11:51 am

Press Release, Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo issued a letter to the U.S. Chair of the International Joint Commission requesting that the entity maximize outflows from the Lake Ontario system to reduce the flooding risk for New Yorkers living and working along the shoreline.

The letter was issued in advance of the Commission’s scheduled decrease in outflows today, March 29, ahead of the shipping and navigation season. In addition to the letter, Governor Cuomo has directed a number of state agencies to begin implementing proactive measures to assist residents, business owners, and local governments in the event of flooding this year on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.

“After the disastrous flooding situations on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River last year, it is critical that we remain vigilant and take whatever measures are necessary for ensuring that history does not repeat itself,” Cuomo said. “While New York has undertaken a wide range to preventative measures to protect against flooding, it would all be negated if the IJC mistakenly reduces outflows. With dozens of communities still recovering, the Commission must make the right decision and continue to maximize river and lake outflows.”

In the letter, the Governor urged the IJC to sustain or increase the outflow levels in order to decrease the chances of potential flooding. While current Lake Ontario outflows are significantly higher than this time in 2017, despite this increased outflow, the lake’s water level remains high and is forecast to rise six inches by April 23.

Given that a matter of inches of water determines whether a house is habitable or a road is passable, the Governor is requesting that outflow decisions be made in accordance with the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty which calls for the equitable sharing of this burden. New York is in no way seeking to cause flooding in the Montreal region, but is simply looking for the IJC to take all reasonable actions to limit flood risks along Lake Ontario.

Prior to the Governor’s letter, multiple state agencies began initiating a number of measures to mitigate flooding that may occur in 2018. At the Governor’s direction, state agencies stand ready to deploy the multi-agency Lake Ontario Rapid Response Team, which includes experts from the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, Department of Environmental Conservation, New York State Police, Department of Financial Services, and the Office of General Services, along with county and municipal agencies.

The Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services has already begun to deploy nearly 250,000 sandbags, sandbagging equipment, Aqua Dams, and other response assets to ensure that the counties and towns can take appropriate action now before the water levels rise to the point of flooding. Additionally, the Department of Environmental Conservation has continued its emergency permitting process which allows property owners to bolster break-walls and other protective structures.

To date, the State has distributed $19,655,848 in total recovery funds for Lake Ontario residents, businesses, and local governments.  New York Homes and Community Renewal administers funding to shoreline residents and municipalities impacted by the 2017 Lake Ontario flooding through the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence Seaway Flood Relief and Recovery Grant Program and Lake Ontario Infrastructure Recovery Program.  HCR has distributed $18,675,000 through the Relief and Recovery Program to assist homeowners with flood recovery and awarded $9,034,970 through the LOIP to enable municipalities to enhance their resiliency to inclement weather.

Moreover, Empire State Development administers the Lake Ontario Small Business Recovery Fund to assist small businesses with their recovery from the 2017 Lake Ontario flooding.  ESD has distributed nearly $1 million to small businesses in the Lake Ontario region through this fund.

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