June 21, 2017

Meanwhile Back in Albany (v11)

Nathaniel Brooks/NY Times
As many of you may have heard, there's a LOT of water in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, which together form much of the border between New York State and Canada.

What's "a LOT of water" mean? How's 6,000,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools full?  Four cubic miles - a puddle a mile wide, a mile high, and four miles long - of water?

According to the Army Corps of Engineers, in the six weeks starting April first, about four trillion gallons of rain water alone entered Lake Ontario. And it didn't stop raining, either.

All spring, we've been seeing and hearing about the incredible flooding, beach erosion, scores of houses and camps and trailers and restaurants and bars and parks under water. The marina and fishing camp owned by my brother-in-law John has received more press this year - for being under water - than in all the years he's owned it, combined, times five or ten  -- it's been that bad along lake, with no end in sight.  For folks like John, who own seasonal businesses which under the best of circumstances are at the mercy of a fickle Mother Nature, this spring has been almost incomprehensible. And yet -- it's inspired great creativity, as folks do whatever they can to keep their businesses open and customers well served.

We've heard less about flooding around Montreal, unless we took the time to read or listen all the way through to the end. As noted in this article from early May,
The city, which is located at the confluence of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers is experiencing record-breaking flooding. The river at Montreal Harbor is nearly four feet higher than normal for this time of year and "dramatic flooding in and around Montreal has forced the evacuation of thousands," according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
Naturally, American politicians were unable to contain themselves any better than the lake boundaries could contain the water. Local, state and federal officials jumped on the International Joint Commission, tasked with managing the lake and seaway for the benefit of both countries and their billion dollar shipping, commerce and tourism industries. The IJC controls the Moses-Saunders Dam on the St. Lawrence River, which is how and where lake levels can be controlled. The IJC is guided by something called Plan 2014, which updated guidelines that had been in place as long as I've been alive. Despite its name, Plan 2014 only went into effect this January; as such, it's been a focal point of many politicians as their constituents deal with water, water everywhere.

Our Sonofa Gov, Andrew Cuomo, is no neophyte when it comes to lashing out - he's gotten pretty good at it. Three weeks or so ago, over the Memorial Day weekend,  Cuomo set his sights on the IJC, calling them on the carpet for the high water while visiting Monroe County.
There's not doubt but that the IJC blew it. They blew it... I think the IJC has made a series of blunders. Their methodology was flawed to begin with. They're doing tremendous damage and it has to stop now. 
Cuomo's comments followed on the heels of a letter he wrote to the IJC a couple of days earlier, in which he noted, after blasting them for not letting water out last year when levels were high or earlier this year before the rains came, and after tooting his own horn about financial assistance the state is offering to those impacted,
With the highest water levels in a century, it is imperative that the IJC take action to reduce lake levels and provide immediate relief to these shoreline communities. Failure to act now defies common sense and will exacerbate this growing problem. Local communities, businesses and residents are facing one of the most damaging and protracted flood situations in generations and relying on you to provide relief.
The IJC responded, noting that Cuomo had responded just last year to the opposite water issue.
...These near average supplies to Lake Ontario last year were the result of above-average inflows from Lake Erie, offset by well below average rainfall and runoff in the Lake Ontario basic, which you may recall experienced such a severe drought in 2016 that you declared a drought disaster in 24 counties in upper New York... (emphasis added)
They went on to explain things about ice formation, weather forecasting, how they used Plan 2014 and also how they deviated from it (as allowed) to manage the situation. Further, they noted
We and our staff are available to you and your staff to further explain the conditions, constraints and hydrology that affects these decisions whenever you would like. 
We applaud your action to dedicate $22 million to assist New York communities, businesses and homeowners to address the devastation that these extreme weather conditions have wrought.  We also hope that you use this opportunity to demonstrate your strong leadership to increase and improve coastal resiliency, as you did after Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy, rather than merely repairing the current damages and leaving people vulnerable.   
I'm no scientist, and don't pretend to have the answers to what's happening to folks like my brother-in law. But I must say, I love a good throw down with our governor, especially when NY's own Environmental Conservation Commissioner notes that we'd have the same conditions whether we were following Plan 2014 or the 1958 plan.

And especially since, as the editorial linked above notes,
For six years, Governor Cuomo was silent as scientists, environmentalists and shoreline property owners debated Plan 2014, the water management plan for Lake Ontario...
Cuomo got his press coverage, which matters dearly to him. And he will take credit for putting assistance on the table, which matters dearly to him, and will help those who qualify. But the exchange with the IJC feels sort of like what I think it would feel like if I decided to publicly challenge my 9th grade earth science teacher.

I'd write a good letter, to be sure, but he would crush me with his expertise.