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Feedback 5/15 

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Water, lakes, and the IJC

On Urban Journal's "The Water's Everywhere — Not Solely in Our Lake":

I believe every person living on the lake shore has a clear understanding of the fact that the water will rise when it rains and when the snow melts. However, the expectation is also that the water will lower when we have a drought, hot weather, no rain.

Unfortunately, this has not been allowed to happen, and that is why when it rains in April (as it always does!), we have to suffer the consequences of water destroying our property.

Imagine if you purchased a lovely home on a huge lot with a little creek running through the back end of it. When you purchase it, you know there is a creek. You know the creek will rise in the spring. But you believe that creek will go back to its smaller size in the fall, right?

But suppose one of your neighbors decides to build a dam to create a big swimming hole for the neighborhood, and that allows the creek to come up to the foundation of your home. Now all the neighborhood kids are enjoying a wonderful swimming pool and you're wondering why it's allowed to happen on your land.

As a lakefront property owner, that is how I feel. I knew when I bought my property that the water would rise and the water would fall. I also did my research and saw that there was a commitment or promise in place that the levels of the lake would not be allowed to go over a certain height. Not the height that God terminated but the height that man determined when he damned up so much water, as you stated, from all of the Great Lakes.

But I believed and trusted that they would keep their word. Therefore I built a house with plenty of room to ensure that I would not be at risk of flooding. But now someone has changed this agreement. I didn't get to have anything to say about it, but my home is being destroyed by it.

The State of New York or the federal government needs to approach each of us lakeshore property owners and offer us market value for our homes. I believe we would take that deal and let you flood this property, as you seem to want to.

I would be happy to get away from the stress of sandbagging, breakwall building, and constantly worrying about future destruction. Until someone would like to purchase my property, I would like them to stop destroying it!

GWEN COMSTRA, HAMLIN

I read and appreciated your article on lake levels and the International Joint Commission. I'm trying to keep the water "at bay" for a building that has been in my family for nearly 50 years and that houses five families here on the island of Montreal.

The building is on Lac St. Louis in Sainte Anne De Bellevue, Québec, at the very tip of the west end of the Island of Montreal. It is where Lac St. Louis (St. Lawrence - Lake Ontario - the Great Lakes) and Lake of Two Mountains (the Ottawa River) all converge.

I don't know how much of eastern North America drains around the Island of Montreal, but certainly a significant portion. So this time of year, and now for the second out of the last three, we are very concerned. I have been very fortunate but my immediate neighbors and many others not so much.

I also realize that both upstream and downstream, people are being dislocated and their lives and dreams are in upheaval.

Our geography links us together on this issue, and it's only by all of us contributing together that we will be able to mitigate the consequences of climate change.

GRGOIRE CREVIER, MONTREAL

I think what is missing is the amount of water that is released in the fall. They used to let more water out, but the last three years they have been keeping the water at a higher level over the fall and winter months. The lake starts higher, Montreal starts flooding, outflow is reduced, and the lake starts flooding.

What we are hoping for is to keep that fall lake level low (like it was historically).

JEFF SULLIVAN, GREECE

The May 8 Urban Journal about the "regulation" of Lake Ontario's levels raises some interesting questions and issues. I am sorry, however, that you chose to end it by raising political issues, which have no place in the discussion.

I am also sorry that Governor Cuomo feels the need to follow the lead of the president in attacking the International Joint Commission. It's a shame that the attacks have been so personal. Finger pointing and scapegoating won't solve this problem. Politics is full of promises; nature is full of realities which follow natural, not man-made rules.

The IJC (appointees representing the Great Lakes States and Provinces as well as the United States and Canada) was originally formed when the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Saunders Dam created the possibility of regulating lake levels. However, the actual regulation of lake levels belongs to natural forces. Especially during persistent high rainfall and snow melt in the Great Lakes watershed (far bigger in area than the lakes themselves), all the lakes, but especially Ontario, cannot be controlled in any meaningful or economically feasible way.

All those cottage owners, water-related businesses, enterprises that rely on the lake as scenery, and homeowners who believed that Lake Ontario's levels could be artificially contained by any of the plans put forward by the IJC, have found they were sadly mistaken. My view is that the IJC never should have implied that they could control Ontario's levels; they should have been more humble.

So when planning and building lakeside developments, the builders should have exercised more caution. They were trying to erect "permanent" structures in one of the most dynamic and destructive ecosystems on the face of the earth. It's a little late for that advice, but when the incautious get flooded (or burned or blown away), it's a mistake to blame anyone but Nature, and good luck getting made whole by Her.

STEPHEN LEWANDOWSKI, CANANDAIGUA

Stephen Lewandowski is retired from 40 years of studying and applying the principles of erosion control for federal, State, county and local governments and private property owners.

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