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State offers $300 million for lakeshore infrastructure 

Governor Andrew Cuomo says the state will provide up to $300 million to assist communities along Lake Ontario that have been hurt by flooding this year and in 2017.

Cuomo announced the funding this morning during a press conference at the Riverside Convention Center. The governor was holding the first meeting of the state Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative (REDI) commission at the convention center, according to a press release.

The REDI commission is chaired by Empire State Development President Howard Zemsky and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos, and is made up of other state agency heads.The commission has been tasked with putting together a plan to"harden infrastructure along Lake Ontario's waterfront while strengthening the region's local economies, which are heavily dependent on summer tourism," says a May 29 press release from Cuomo's office. 

The governor wasn't specific about what types of projects the state has in mind, but he talked about past efforts to rebuild things such as power lines to be stronger and more storm-resistant, and to improve capacity at water treatment plants that have been stressed by intense storms. The state is asking lakeside communities to submit projects for consideration, and any funding award would be contingent on a 15 percent local match.

The state spent more than $100 million to help communities recover from the 2017 Lake Ontario flooding, only to see similar problems develop again this year. The flooding is clearly not a one-time problem, nor is it a "once in a lifetime, or a twice in a lifetime, or a three time in a lifetime" problem, Cuomo said.  The flooding is in line with global "extreme weather patterns," he said, an allusion to climate change.

"I don't want to be on the defense, I don't want to just wait for the emergency to happen and then we respond to the emergency," Cuomo said. Let's figure out a proactive strategy to get ahead of it and actually improve upon it."

As of June 6, Lake Ontario's water level was 249.08 feet, according to data from the International Joint Commission's Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board. On the same day in 2017, the water level was 248.85 feet; its historical average for June 1 through 8 is 246.26 feet.

All of the Great Lakes are currently at or near record high levels for this time of year. In short, the whole Great Lakes Basin — the combined drainage area for all of the lakes — has been experiencing wet weather, which drives the levels up, says Keith Kompoltowicz, chief of watershed hydrology for the US Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District.

For the past six years, the lakes have had an above average influx of water from precipitation and runoff, Kompoltowicz says.

During his remarks today, Cuomo also placed some of the blame for Lake Ontario flooding on the International Joint Commission, the US-Canada agency is tasked with managing binational water bodies, including Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. The agency regulates outflows from Lake Ontario into the St. Lawrence River through a dam using an approach known as Plan 2014.

Lakeshore residents have been critical of the plan from the start and politicians across the state, including Cuomo and Senator Chuck Schumer, have followed suit. But the International Joint Commission has historically argued it has little influence on Lake Ontario's water levels, especially when weather conditions are particularly wet. And scientists have backed that argument.

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