Today the International Joint Commission officially approved a new plan for regulating Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River water levels and flows.
It took 16 years of scientific study, public engagement, and governmental review, but the new regulations – dubbed Plan 2014 – will restore the health and diversity of the local ecosystem.
"We are pleased that Plan 2014 will bring system-wide improvements, with consideration of ecosystem health and recreational boating along with shoreline communities, commercial navigation and hydropower production," said Canadian Section Chair Gordon Walker in a statement.
Flows will be set at the Moses-Saunders Dam located on the St. Lawrence River between Cornwall, Ontario and Massena, New York.
What does it all mean?
Plan 2014 will change water flow regulations that have been in place since 1958. In the 1950’s, the impacts those regulations had on the local ecosystem were not fully understood. The 1958 plan minimized the natural fall and rise of water levels, resulting in the health degradation of 64,000 acres of wetlands on Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River.
After nearly 60 years, it’s clear what damage minimizing water levels has done to the local environment. Specifically, it has allowed the widespread growth of cattail thickets, limiting the diversity of plants which impact fish and wildlife populations.
Going forward, water flows will now more closely match natural water level changes.
This will help restore fish and wildlife habitat, and improve coastal health in general.
The plan will also extend the recreational boating season and slightly increase hydropower production.
Check out this fact sheet from the International Joint Commission for more information on the benefits of the regulatory changes.