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Lake Ontario – Playing God on the Great Lakes

The other day, I was in the northern part of Niagara County handling some business. I was near Olcott Beach, on the shore of Lake Ontario, so I decided to stop and see the shoreline.

There has been much news recently about high water levels along the shores of this Great Lake, so I thought I’d take a look. I did notice a difference, but Olcott is largely on a cliff so the effects were visibly at a minimum.

As we are all aware, waters from Lake Erie flow down the Niagara River to Niagara Falls, and into Lake Ontario. From there, they flow down the St. Lawrence River and on to the North Atlantic.

As I headed back to my vehicle, a woman called me over. She started telling me about the water levels, and showing me pictures of her property, and I kept listening because I’m concerned about this issue.

It turns out that her name is Kathy Pellegrino, and she is a resident of nearby Somerset. What we discussed left an impression in my mind which certainly called for further research, and a need to tell her story. We discussed the sentiments shared by her neighbors, and countless other residents who call the shores of Lake Ontario home.

As Kathy and I spoke, I sensed a certain amount of frustration, maybe even desperation from the retired Buffalo school teacher, concerning what she and others feel is a man-made catastrophe. Apparently, these people feel helpless, with nowhere to share their concerns. These were her thoughts:

“This started happening when they raised the levels of the lake for Plan 2014 – more on Plan 2014 here.

“We went to meetings a few of years ago, and we were told it was coming. We personally spent $10,000 on tons of rock to support our break wall. The level has gone up from an inch to 4 feet along my break wall. When the waves come in, it crashes in 10 to 14 feet above the bedrock.” She continued, “It stopped being safe to access the lake on my property when the concrete started caving in, and my boathouse got blown away. The floor for that is caved in, and now the lake is washed underneath it. It washed out all the supporting ground.”

In regards to the confidence of their elected officials, Kathy said, “The town of Somerset had a meeting last week, and I went to it. I spoke to legislator David Godfrey. His response was ‘You live on the lake, that’s the way it is.’ I also went to (the government information trailer) at the Olcott fire hall. The gentleman there told me to write to the governor, and as a taxpayer, that’s unacceptable. We have elections, they should be going to Albany to speak for me. I shouldn’t be the one doing this.”

Plan 2014 artificially raised water levels for a balance with nature and shipping. Water flow was slowed by the Moses Saunders dam in the St Lawrence River. The decision was made by the International Joint Commission.

Kathy, moved to the lakeshore with her husband Joe after retirement for the tranquility, but they have harsh realities ahead. They remain steadfast about finding an acceptable resolution. “I’ve spoken to the DEC, and they told me any construction is at the homeowner’s expense. No financial aid is coming from the government. Homeowners insurance does not cover erosion, and this is considered erosion. Erosion happens, but this is extreme erosion caused by the treaty, and the government knew about it. They knew the water was going to raise the level of the lake, it wasn’t for the muskrats, it was for someone’s wallet, for the hydroelectric power. I feel since the government caused it, maybe their engineers made a big boo boo, and didn’t realize the power of the lake and the damage it would cause, so fix it. Reinforce the shoreline, reimburse the people, and fix what’s broken. That’s all we ask, fix what you broke.”

Part of Plan 2014 was done in preparation for global warming.

Flooding throughout the Lake Ontario watershed peaked this month with heavy rains affecting virtually all communities. Small beach communities to major metropolitan urban centers including Toronto and Montreal have been affected. With the water levels already artificially high, it had nowhere to go but up even higher. Governor Cuomo has declared a state of emergency early this month for these lakeside communities. This will provide temporary resources to help protect properties, but long term solutions are needed. This not only hurts residents, but also the economies of the local communities. “Usually this time of year, you see trailers, and campers rolling in, now you see them moving out”, Kathy states. There have also been requests for the Moses-Saunders Dam in Massena, NY to release more water to the St. Lawrence River to relieve the swelling water, however, that would put Montreal at risk of either further flooding. The powers that be are waiting for waters to recede along the St. Lawrence River before releasing more water from the lake. More info here.

The Ontario watershed certainly extends into the greater Buffalo area, which makes it an issue that we should all be paying attention to. We are a part of the Great Lakes ecosystem after all. It will be interesting to see how this all pans out, because playing God with out Great Lakes impacts everyone, whether it’s invasive species management, pollution from farm runoff, or artificially controlling water levels.

Lake Erie has been experiencing rising water levels as of late, but numerous climate change experts claim that global warming means that we will see more more drastic changes that will cause the lake to lower and rise, without being able to predict the drastically changing levels. At this point, while Lake Ontario residents are dealing with their own issues, maybe we should all be more concerned with Nestle stealing waters out of Lake Michigan.

Written by Elias Benavides

Elias Benavides

A goofy kid from Buffalo's lower west side who loved to play the guitar and loved live music. Has moved on to sound engineering, stage lighting, anything live music. Now he's writing about musicians on BR too. Why am I talking in the third person?

View All Articles by Elias Benavides
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