By ANDREA VanVALKENBURG
---- — PLATTSBURGH — With a final recommendation looming, area residents still have time to weigh in on three proposals to study the Lake Champlain and Richelieu River watershed.
It has been almost two years since damaging spring flooding sent water gushing over the shores of Lake Champlain and its tributaries, destroying thousands of homes across New York, Vermont and Quebec and leaving millions of dollars of destruction in its wake.
The widespread devastation of the 2011 thaw prompted U.S. and Canadian governments to request an International Joint Commission recommendation for a comprehensive study about the impact of rising waters in the watershed and an evaluation of possible mitigation efforts and a cost-benefit analysis.
The request led to the formation of the International Lake Champlain Richelieu River Work Group, whose members have since spent about a year collaborating with more than 100 experts during a series of workshops and public forums.
They have created three study options to evaluate the causes and impact of past floods, particularly the historic 2011 event; possible flood mitigation measures for the watershed; and the need for real-time flood inundation mapping to help during future events.
With the group’s final recommendation to the International Joint Commission approaching, members of the group once again met with residents across international and state lines to get additional public input on their draft plan of study.
“We’ve been working very hard to create this plan of study ... and we are near the end of finalizing this document,” Work Group Co-chair Jenifer Thalhauser told New York and Vermont residents this week during a joint meeting on the study options.
She said the draft of study, which is near completion, took into consideration the Joint Commission’s directive, expert input and feedback from residents who turned out for a series of public forums in Vermont and Canada last August.
One of the most common concerns expressed at those meetings, she said, was that the watershed has already been the focus of several extensive studies in the past and whether another look was prudent and cost-effective or whether any possible mitigation efforts would be practical or beneficial.
“We got a lot of great comments and questions,” she said. “And yes, there have been a lot of studies on this issue, but we need new data for the (Joint Commission) directive.”
Thalhauser said officials need a greater modeling tool than is currently available to answer flooding and mitigation questions with any sense of certainty.
“Obviously, we want to know why it (2011 spring flooding) happened,” she told the estimated 30 people in attendance at the joint meeting.
The first study option, Thalhauser said, “is the most basic of the study options.”
That plan would use existing data to evaluate the causes and impacts of past floods, assess the possibilities offered by flood-plain management and evaluate adaptation strategies for future variability in the water supplies.
At an estimated cost of $5 million, Option A would take about three years to complete.
Study Option B includes the components of the first option but adds a combination of quantitative and qualitative assessments of potential mitigation efforts and their impact on area resources.
At nearly $11 million, Option B would take about five years to finish.
Option C encompasses the previous components but delves even further into qualitative and quantitative resource response modeling, including the addition of such efforts as erosion models and ancillary data, as well as hydrologic and hydraulic models.
It would also include an evaluation of more detailed inventory of structural and non-structural mitigation measures, such as dredging and flood-plain management.
As a five-year potential process, Option C would cost roughly $14 million.
After this week’s meetings and with the comment deadline approaching, Work Group members will take the public’s input into consideration before making a final recommendation to the Joint Commission.
Their preliminary choice is Option B or C, as they say those studies would have the most comprehensive understanding of the watershed system and possible mitigation benefits.
Regardless of the group’s preference, the U.S. and Canadian governments will ultimately decide how to move forward and which study option may be implemented.
International Joint Commission Commissioner Dereth B. Glance said the Work Group is “listening to all the great stuff people have to say” before making it decision.
“This is the very early stages of a very multidimensional issue,” she told the Press-Republican.
HOW TO COMMENT
- A detailed copy of the Work Group's findings and proposed options can be found at www.ijc.org/champlainrichelieuplan.
- The deadline for public comment on the study options is Monday, March 18.
- Residents can submit comments about the proposed study plans online at http://ijc.org/champlainrichelieuplan/?page_id=145 or by mailing submissions to Stephanie Castle, U.S. Co-Secretary, at the Lake Champlain Basin Program, 54 West Shore Road, Grand Isle, VT 05458.