State of emergency declared for Lake Ontario shoreline communities

State will increase resources due to lake flooding

Mike Baggerman
May 20, 2019 - 2:31 pm

Aqua Dam placed along Lake Ontario near shoreline home. May 20, 2019 (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

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Correction: Our initial report indicated the water levels along Lake Erie. The water levels on Lake Ontario are nearing the 2017 of 248.67 feet as of May 21.

OLCOTT, N.Y. (WBEN) - For the second time in a month, Governor Andrew Cuomo visited the Olcott community to examine the flooding along Lake Ontario.

Cuomo declared a state of emergency for all of the communities affected by the flooding. The state of emergency means that boats cannot travel faster than five miles per hour within 1,000 feet of the shoreline because exceeding the limit could cause larger waves. It will also allow New York State to expedite the process of sending resources to the communities hit hard by the rising water levels. The governor previously visited the community on May 1 and allocated resources like water pumps.

Flooding at Lake Ontario has been a problem for two of the last three years because of a mixture of increased precipitation and decisions made by the International Joint Commission, a governing body that regulates the highs and lows of the lake. According to the US Army Corps of Engineers, the water levels in Lake Ontario are 248.67 feet as of May 21. That's only .02 feet less than the 2017 maximum.

"We are now looking at the very real possibility of a flood like we had in 2017," Cuomo said. "As painful as that news is to hear, it's true. The level is up. We're now just dealing with mother nature and the probability of either rain or wind."

Eight counties along the shoreline are under the state of emergency, including Niagara and Orleans counties.

In high-bank areas, sandbagging and aqua dams are ineffective because the ground is eroded underneath. Emergency officials said there are some situations where there is nothing that can be done.

The governor previously called on the IJC to do something about the water levels and commended the appointment of Jane Corwin to represent New York on the international body.

"Since we were last here, the situation has gotten worse," Cuomo said. "The IJC can say 'We continue to release water and more water'...from my point of view as a New Yorker, it's gotten worse. I understand they have to balance a lot of needs. I'm concerned with New Yorkers. My job is to protect them and fight for them."

He questioned why the IJC isn't releasing more water earlier. Part of the risk in releasing more water down the St. Lawrence River is that doing so runs the risk of flooding communities near Montreal.

Cuomo urged residents who are affected by the flooding to call (518) 292-2200 and to contact local government officials.

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