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Over-discahrge at Massena dam continues despite record-low lake levels

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MASSENA - The “moderate over-discharge” of water at the Massena dam will continue despite record-low Lake Ontario levels to “maintain an adequate minimum” depth in the Montreal area, according to officials.

“Levels on Lake Ontario are the lowest for this time of the year since 1964,” said the International St. Lawrence River Board of Control, a binational agency that determines the outflow at the Robert H. Moses-Saunders Power Dam, Massena. “The average September level in Montreal was a new record low, in large part because outflows from the Ottawa River have also been at record-low values, due to the persistent drought conditions in the region.”

Lake water level, as of Oct. 17, was at 243.83 feet — 6.7 inches above the lower regulatory limit but 11.8 inches below the long-term average for this time of year, the board said in a news release.

The Port of Montreal level that day hit 17.98 feet, or 31.5 inches below average.

Outflow at the Massena dam will be reduced — thus restoring water back to the lake — when “downstream conditions permit.”

If the board had not over-discharged and strictly followed the U.S.-Canadian water management plan for the region, the lake would have been 2.2 inches higher.

The 2012 boating season on the lake and St. Lawrence River was cut short by a month this year, with boaters and marinas scrambling to pull vessels out of the water at the end of September and the first couple weeks of October.

Although the River Board of Control made efforts this spring and summer to retain water, it wasn’t enough to restore what the region had lost earlier this year.

Until mid-March, the Board of Control was releasing large amounts of water — maximizing outflow at the dam for months — based on early predictions of high summer water levels and in response to complaints from south-shore property owners of erosion damage.

Due to the warm winter weather and higher-than-average precipitation, winter water levels were above average, but there was also little to no water supply from spring snowmelt and the lack of ice cover led to more evaporation.

Using satellite measurements from 1973 to 2010, researchers at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory have found that the Great Lakes average ice coverage is down by 71 percent — with the highest loss, 88 percent, seen in Lake Ontario.

Supply from Lake Erie, Ontario’s primary water source, also has been low this year due to the drought.

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