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Lake Ontario water levels raising concerns for spring flooding

Niagara County's emergency services director says this projected flooding in 2020 could surpass 2017's flooding event.

OLCOTT, N.Y. — With the rain that's expected in Western New York, it's certainly a concern for those up near Lake Ontario.

Niagara County emergency services director Jonathan Schultz said Sunday that he has concerns about the rising water levels of Lake Ontario. He says water levels are already higher than at a similar period a year ago, which could mean devastating flooding come spring.

Schultz said Lake Ontario has risen nine inches higher than at this time last year. 

Last year a State of Emergency was declared at 248.8 inches, and Schultz said that would most likely happen again this year based on observed conditions. He said he is planning for levels of 250 inches at peak this year.

Typically he begins speaking with the Lake Ontario Planning Committee in April to prepare for flooding. But this year Schultz spoke with them on Wednesday.

"We are about nine inches above where we were last year for the high levels on Lake Ontario," Schultz said. "Unfortunately we’ve been seeing a steady increase going on, and the actual in flow coming into Lake Ontario is much greater than what we have going out of the Saunders Dam at this point." 

He says the lake has risen an inch just since Wednesday, and if that projection continues, residents and businesses along the lake who are no strangers to flooding could see some of the worst flooding in years.

"Nine inches higher than last year ... you know we're looking at unfortunately this year more damage to personal property to our businesses," Schultz said. "Businesses having to close again for a better part of the summer, which is their key time to make their money in the short season that we have in the community."

"And this year, potentially nine inches higher, we're looking at even more damage to homes and looking at potentially having to move people out of homes due to flooding."

2 On Your Side also spoke with Niagara County legislators David Godfrey and John Syracuse about this. They both expressed concerns and believe the International Joint Commission's plan 2014 is the reason for the rising lake levels over the past few years.

"We have fought ever since then with the IJC in Washington again and again to try to explain to them that it’s not going to work," Godfrey said.

Added Syracuse: "We’re concerned about the loss of property, we’re concerned about the loss of business economics, we’re concerned about the frustrations that the homeowners and businesses have here year after year."   

Schultz says this projected flooding in 2020 could surpass 2017's flooding event.

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