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River community: BV7 water plan for Lake Ontario not perfect; but a balanced compromise

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CLAYTON — A decade has passed since the International Joint Commission started researching and collecting feedback to update its now half-century-old water levels management plan.

Presented earlier this year, the IJC’s “balanced approach” plan BV7, or version 7 of the environmentally friendly Plan B, drew many supportive comments from the crowd gathered Wednesday night at the Clayton Opera House.

During the IJC’s public session, the consensus was that while BV7 was not perfect, it’s still the best water plan the upper Lake Ontario-Thousand Islands region has seen so far.

“Am I going to go gung-ho for BV7? Not yet,” said Beatrice D. Schermerhorn, co-founder of the International Water Levels Coalition, who had been following the issue longer than most. “Is it better than what we’ve got? You bet it is.”

Several others pointed out that enough time and money have been spent on formulating a plan that takes into consideration all interests — including environmental and recreational boating interests that were neglected under the original 1958-D water plan.

Under this proposed plan, however, the cost of shoreline protection for lake coastal property is likely to rise owing to increased erosion risks.

In an economic impact study, the IJC projects a $3 million-per-year “reduced benefits” for lakefront residents with BV7 compared with the current plan.

However, this study does not put a dollar figure on the benefits of beach rebuilding — a shoreline revitalization process that should come naturally with low-water conditions permitted under BV7.

South shore lake property owners, in particular, have been very vocal in their opposition to BV7, with its wider long-term range of fluctuation, because of increased risks of damage to their beaches and properties.

On average, BV7 is expected to increase spring water levels by 2.4 inches, summer levels by 1.2 inches and fall levels by 2 inches – which suggests a longer boating season. The lake’s and river’s annual cycle of rising and dropping water levels start with low winter levels with a typical peak in early June.

If BV7 had been in place over the past 100 years, IJC’s analysis shows that the lowest summertime peak would have been as low as 244.09 feet — dipping well below the “concern level” for boating of 244.4 feet — and the highest levels would have been as high as 248.5 feet.

Because of these possible lower low-water years, IJC’s projections show a combined annual loss of $630,000 for the region’s recreational boating industry.

Still, hopes are high in the Thousand Islands for longer boating seasons under BV7 that would help local businesses.

Jeffrey Garnsey, president of the Clayton Guides Association, said that his family has lived in the area for several generations and that he had witnessed first-hand the deterioration of wetlands and the steep drop in water levels every fall that cuts the season short under IJC’s current water management plan.

IJC says BV7 would improve the diversity and functioning of Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River wetlands — a highly diverse plant community and vital habitat for fish and wildlife — that cover roughly 26,000 hectares, or 64,000 acres.

By mimicking the natural rise and fall of the lake and river, BV7 is expected to help reverse the damage done to the region’s ecosystem with the construction of the Moses-Saunders hydroelectric dam in Massena and increase Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River-area wetland meadows by 40 percent.

IJC’s impact study also shows that BV7 would bring small benefits for hydropower and commercial navigation along the St. Lawrence Seaway.

After gathering public input until June 15, IJC will draft its final proposal, which will include a revised order of approval, regulation plan, adaptive management plan and governance structure.

IJC will hold public hearings on the final proposal before adopting a new set of regulations. After wrapping up the public informational sessions, IJC will host a four-day “web dialogue” June 12 through 15 to answer more in-depth and technical questions.

To sign up, go to: www.webdialogues.net/ijc/loslr_EN

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