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Low water levels have a mixed impact on St. Lawrence County’s marinas

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The effect of low water levels has ranged from negligible to near devastating.

“This year you couldn’t really complain about the water levels for the first two-thirds of the summer,” Louisville Recreation Director and St. Lawrence River Walleye Association Treasurer Dewey LaValley said. “They only recently just dropped them.”

Mr. LaValley said he doesn’t have anything to complain about.

“The fishing is still great,” he said.

Shannon J. Prentice serves as commodore for the Lake St. Lawrence Yacht Club in Louisville, and said he hasn’t heard any complaints, either.

“Personally I haven’t heard too much about it,” he said. “It has been up and down, but we sail out on the river and need depth and for us it hasn’t been too bad.”

Mr. Prentice said the hiccups for them come toward the end of the boating season when the water levels drop, making it difficult to get boats out of the water.

“We’ve still got boats in down there,” he said. “They all need to be out by Sept. 24 when we pull the docks.”

In Ogdensburg, the city-owned marina’s transient boater traffic will probably be down from last year’s 42 visiting boaters and the $1,455 in docking fees they paid.

The marina closes Oct. 1.

“So far this year, we have had 31 transients,” said Matthew J. Curatolo, the city’s parks and recreation director. “Those 31 transients stayed a total of 56 nights. What that tells me is that many of our visiting boaters are staying multiple nights, and they like what they see when they come to Ogdensburg’s marina. A number of boaters have told me or my staff that they loved staying here.”

At Hosmer’s Marina, 54 E. River St., owner William D. Hosmer said his 10 transient slips have been occupied all summer because of fuel sales.

“We had a good summer,” he said of his Oswegatchie River business, which launched in May and will close for the season in October.

Still, the Hosmer marina hasn’t escaped the low water dilemma. Since mid-August, two feet of the five-foot-high seawall has been exposed. Ankle-deep river water has rendered six inner slips useless, and two large rocks had to be removed after scraping two boat bottoms.

Mr. Hosmer said the low water level has its roots in the mild winter.

“There was no runoff,” he said. “The water level started low.”

In Waddington, the low water levels haven’t hurt tourism.

“We don’t have that much of a problem because our boat ramps are built right down into the water,” said Waddington Chamber of Commerce President John Steen President John Steen. “The cars just have to back down a little farther. Basically the water goes down so the boats tying up to them are at the same elevation, except for Island View Park which has a fixed dock. Some of the smaller boats have had to watch that their boats don’t go under the fixed docks.”

In Morristown, however, it’s just the opposite.

“About 50 percent of our slips are unusable,” said Ronald R. Wright, owner of Wright’s Marina and the village dock master. “Some of our docks are sitting on the bottom. Historically, it gets low in September, but this year it started getting low earlier, late July, first of August. It started getting really bad. It’s down close to two feet from what’s normal. It’s caused people to pull their boats out early.”

The boat ramps have suffered, too.

“They are getting close to unusable, especially for big boats,” Mr. Wright said. “Even the village boat ramp is getting close to unusable. The concrete only goes down so far.”

He said he has learned that the level dropped to deviate more water to Montreal to aid shipping.

“September and October is some of the nicest boating, especially for fishing. Getting boats out in September or October is going to be a problem,” he said. “It’s not good for floating docks to sit on the bottom for long. A lot of people have hit shallow water and ruined their props.”

Mr. Wright said his business has fared well overall this summer.

Mr. Prentice’s brother, Shawn, owns and operates St. Lawrence Recreation, Louisville, a shop specializing in boating supplies and repairs.

“At this end we’ve been good,” he said. “There haven’t been any issues with low water.”

Shawn Prentice said from Iroquois Dam in Waddington through to the power dam in Massena the levels have been fine.

“I can tell by prop sales,” he said. “If I get a bunch of people looking for props then I know the water levels are down.”

The Economy Of Water Levels

St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. Associate Administrator Salvatore Pisani is sensitive to the local economic aspect of water levels that are constantly monitored. The agency, he said, isn’t fixated solely on the big money generated by commercial shipping.

“Absolutely not,” Mr. Pisani said. “Recreational dollars in the north country are substantial.”

Mr. Curatolo has another take on the economics of low water levels on the St. Lawrence River.

“Has the low water hurt the number of the transient boaters we’ve seen?” he asked. “It’s really hard to tell. I think the main factor in the slight decline is the cost of owning and operating a boat and the price of gas. Maybe it’s just too hard financially for some people to be making these trips by water these days.”

Dalton Foster, who serves as a technical adviser for the International Water Levels Coalition said water levels are on the way down and could become a concern in the weeks and days ahead, if there isn’t more rain in the area.

“Unless we get some rain there aren’t the resources to come down the river,” he said. “If we don’t get any more rain soon and they keep sending resource up the river it will get low here too.”

He said the St. Lawrence is at a tipping point toward dangerously low water levels.

“The problem is it can drop pretty fast,” he said. “We can get changes of six to eight inches per day.”

Reason Behind The Drop

Mr. Foster said dam operators along the river are letting more water out than usual.

“They’re letting out more water than what is called for by the plan,” he said, referring to the water level regulations plan adopted by the International Joint Commission.

He said the operators are trying to maintain adequate water levels in Lake St. Louis near Montreal.

“The critical number is 26.2 meters,” Mr. Foster said. “When it’s below that the ships are put in danger.”

When water levels along the St. Lawrence Seaway are low, he said, it’s the Lake St. Louis area that usually ends up the most shallow.

Johnson Newspapers reporters Benny Fairchild, Sean Ewart and Amanda Purcell contributed to this report

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