Cornwall – Due to favorable ice conditions and previously implemented deviation strategies, the Lake Ontario outflows surpassed the historical record-high for the month of March, making this the third straight monthly record that has been exceeded during the Board’s ongoing efforts to deviate from Plan 2014 and remove water from Lake Ontario.
The International Lake Ontario–St. Lawrence River Board met Friday, 27 March to review conditions and assess the previously announced strategy for maximizing outflows to remove water from Lake Ontario.
Outflows above the Plan 2014 F Limit have been released over the past three weeks. The F Limit, also known as the “flood” limit, is meant to balance high water impacts upstream and downstream, typically during the spring when wet weather, snow melt and rising Ottawa River flows tend to cause levels to rise throughout the Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River system. The Board proactively targeted a level of 22.20 m (72.8 ft) in recent weeks, 10 cm (4 in) higher than what would normally apply under Plan 2014 given recent Lake Ontario levels. This allowed several centimeters of additional water to be removed from Lake Ontario in advance of the expected Ottawa River freshet, which combined with Lake Ontario outflows, also increases flows and water levels in the lower St. Lawrence River at this time of year.
Starting 1 April, higher levels at Lake St. Louis will be targeted. Outflows will be set to allow Lake St. Louis to reach 22.33 m (73.3 ft), which normally applies only when levels of Lake Ontario are between 75.37 m (240.7 ft) m and 75.5 m (247.7 ft). Lake Ontario is at 75.24 m (246.8 ft) as of 31 March and continues to rise gradually. The Board agreed to this strategy after considering the high likelihood that a level of 22.33 m will be reached in the coming weeks even without deviating, and that targeting this level sooner will allow slightly more water to be removed from Lake Ontario in advance, which may reduce the risk of higher levels both upstream and downstream later this spring.
The Board’s strategy will also consider conditions further downstream on the St. Lawrence River at Lake St. Peter. Like Lake Ontario, this area of the St. Lawrence River also suffered severe flooding impacts during the springs of 2017 and 2019, and while uncertain at this time, there remains a risk it will see similar impacts this year. If the Lake St. Peter gauge is expected, within 24 hours, to rise and remain 2.7 m (8.8 ft) or more above chart datum, then outflows will be adjusted to follow the applicable tier of the F Limit according to the level of Lake Ontario.
The Board has also considered the effects of high Lake Ontario outflows on commercial navigation in the St. Lawrence River. Cross-currents at critical reaches of the Seaway may also limit the outflow, depending on levels in the lower St. Lawrence River and the threat of flooding in these areas. As of 1 April, in coordination with commercial navigation experts and mariners, the Board has agreed to increase outflows as quickly and as much as possible above the Plan 2014 safe navigation limit (L Limit).
The additional water removed from Lake Ontario due to deviations from both the F and L limits will likely be on the order of a few centimeters, or a couple inches, and therefore, small in comparison to what is already being removed by the rules of Plan 2014, and also in comparison to the seasonal increase of water supplies into the Ontario basin. Nonetheless, the Board also recognizes the importance of removing any additional water it can during this critical spring period.
The Board continues to monitor conditions and flows around Lake Ontario, the lower St. Lawrence River, and in the Ottawa River basin, and will continue to consider further adjustments to its strategies over the next several weeks. Updated information on current and expected conditions on the Ottawa River can be found on the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board’s website here: http://ottawariver.ca/
While the COVID-19 pandemic situation continues to change rapidly, the Board remains committed to ensuring it continues to regulate the outflow from Lake Ontario, communicate its evolving strategy and its impacts to all interests in the system while the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds. Media, local officials and members of the public may still communicate with the Board’s Secretaries using the ‘Contact’ form on the website.
Please note that the Board has created a website page focused on the recent high-water events: https://ijc.org/en/loslrb/q&a (English) [https://www.ijc.org/fr/
Information on hydrologic conditions, water levels and outflows, including graphics and photos, are available on the Board’s website and posted to the Board’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/