Press-Republican

July 31, 2013

International group releases report on lake flooding

By JEFF MEYERS
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — The United States and Canada should look jointly at the causes and impacts of Lake Champlain and Richelieu River flooding and develop measures to reduce the potential for major problems.

That is the recommendation of the International Joint Commission, designed to address issues relevant to both countries. This week, the commission endorsed a $14 million study of the Lake Champlain/Richelieu River watershed.

2011 FLOODS

A work group comprising regional experts was charged with the task in March 2012 in response to the spring flooding of 2011.

At that time, Lake Champlain exceeded flood stage for 67 days, damaging nearly 4,000 homes and creating tens of millions of dollars in damage.

The work group held public-comment sessions throughout the watershed during its study and also collected comments from municipal officials and other stakeholders.

It came up with three recommendations, including its chosen alternative: a five-year $14 million assessment of flooding and possible solutions.

ESTABLISH JOINT BOARD

It is recommended that the U.S. and Canadian governments create an international study board to develop a model to examine the movement and distribution of water throughout the watershed and look at flood-mitigation measures, said Bill Howland, executive director for the Lake Champlain Basin Program.

“They will have a lot of public consultation throughout (the study) so that everybody understands the process from a physical, socioeconomic and ecological perspective.”

REGULATE DEVELOPMENT

The report also recommends that local, regional, state and provincial governments do everything they can to minimize the impact of flooding by regulating new development in flood-prone areas.

“We really need to get a grip on this (flooding issue),” Howland said. “It’s an enormous part of the problems the lake faces.”

OPTIONS

The first option in the list of recommendations involves a three-year, $5 million study that would evaluate the causes and impacts of past floods, assess possible flood-management practice and plan for future changes in the watershed.

The second option, a five-year study at $11 million, includes measures from the first but is more detailed in addressing the impact to important resources in the watershed, such as wetlands and use of recreation.

The final option, which the study group is recommending, includes all aspects of the first two and expands on the possibilities for increased flooding conditions.

“What’s important to point out is that flooding is not just a case of a lot things getting wet,” said Howland, who believes the third option offers the most comprehensive approach to the problem.

“On the way to the lake, storm waters pick up huge amounts of nutrients and sediments. We really need to look at ways to reduce the impact of flooding from many different levels.”

PAYING FOR IT

The International Joint Commission’s recommendation will now be forwarded to the offices of President Barack Obama and the prime minister of Canada, where decisions will be made on whether to include the needed funding in the respective countries’ budgets for 2014.

The International Joint Commission previously studied the regulation of Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River, in reports released in 1937 and 1981.

The commission was established under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to help the United States and Canada prevent and resolve disputes over the use of waters the two countries share, including projects that affect the natural levels and flows of boundary waters.

Email Jeff Meyers:jmeyers@pressrepublican.com

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READ THE REPORT

To review the report released by the International Joint Commission, go to http://tinyurl.com/pzygat5.