Regulators explain Lake Ontario, St. Lawrence River water levels in web conference

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WATERTOWN — Water levels throughout the Great Lakes and its attached rivers are trending downward from their historic high levels observed just a few years ago, but the system’s unpredictability is still causing some unique trends in local waterways.

In the Thousand Islands area, water levels are significantly lower than their average levels for this time of year, with many who use the waterways complaining of dramatically low levels and damaging conditions. During a web conference hosted by the International Joint Commission on Tuesday, Kyle McCune, alternate U.S. chair for all three regional water regulation boards under IJC jurisdiction, explained why that is.

“Current water levels on the upper portion of the St. Lawrence River between Lake Ontario and the Moses-Saunders Dam are at many locations near or at record low levels for this time of year,” he said. “There are several drivers to low water levels in the upper portion of the St. Lawrence River, including below-average water levels on Lake Ontario, lower than average regional precipitation and high outflows at the Moses-Saunders Dam.”

In Lake Ontario, water levels for 2022 trended above average until July of this year, when they dropped below their long-term average. The average water level for the last week of August on Lake Ontario is 245.64 feet, and the current level as of Aug. 29 is 244.95 feet, less than inch below its long-term average.

At Lake St. Lawrence, right above the Moses-Saunders Dam at Massena, water levels fluctuate more dramatically. Current levels at the forebay to the dam as of Aug. 29 are 238.52 feet, but the historic average is nearly two feet higher, at 240.39 feet.

Mr. McCune explained that the Moses-Saunders Dam outflows are set by a formula that takes into account the previous year’s water levels and the current year’s water levels, and last year’s relatively high water levels require more water to flow through the dam this year. Additionally, only local conditions are really impacting the water levels on Lake Ontario and the river.

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