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Sun., Dec. 21
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Lake Ontario water levels dip below average

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Hopes for high summer water levels are slowly diminishing as the International St. Lawrence River Board of Control reports an “increasing risk of low levels later this year” for the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario.

As a result of below-normal precipitation in March and April, lake water levels dropped below their long-term average, and the Board of Control is now restoring the water it had released over the winter to bring it back to average levels.

Marina owners and tourism operators are noticing the difference but say it is too early to tell how the boating season will turn out.

John J. Killius, owner of Henchen’s Marina, Henderson Harbor, said the lake is almost a foot lower than last year. He said he only hopes the board will continue to hold back the water.

“We’re definitely lower than last year — which was actually a high-water year — but I’d say we’re within livable conditions,” he said.

In its latest report, the board notes late-April lake water levels dropped to 245.73 feet — 0.8 inch below the long-term average for that time of the year.

In Cape Vincent, where the lake meets the river, the water was at 245.68 feet as of Tuesday — 14.64 inches lower than last year.

“There’s no doubt we have low water,” said Ronald G. Thomson, owner of several Alexandria Bay businesses, including Uncle Sam Boat Tours.

Mr. Thomson, whose businesses are more weather-dependent, said that although boaters might be able to live with lower-than-average water levels in the summer, he is worried that typical fall drawdown would cut the boating season short.

“The people I’m really sorry for is cottage owners with docks in fairly low water,” he said.

Up until mid-March, the Board of Control had predicted higher-than-average water levels until September and had been releasing large amounts of water.

Owing to high winter water levels, Lake Ontario property owners along the south shore were complaining of erosion damage, and the board had maximized outflow at the Robert H. Moses-Saunders Power Dam in Massena for an extended period to prevent flooding.

Now, the Board of Control says it believes the risk of Lake Ontario levels exceeding the upper monthly average limit has “decreased to almost zero.”

Since last Saturday and through Friday, the board plans to keep the outflow at 247,600 cubic feet per second – some 14,100 cfs below what it normally would release under a water regulation plan.

The sudden drop is partly a result of rather low precipitation levels, but also because inflow from Lake Erie — Lake Ontario’s primary source of water — was close to average in March and below average in April, the Board of Control said.

Restoration will stop when the lake reaches 246.39 feet, and the Board of Control expects the water to be restored completely by June 22.

While Lake Ontario water levels vary from year to year, from April through November, the River Board of Control tries to keep it within an upper limit of 247.3 feet and a lower limit of 243.3 feet.

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