CLAYTON — More than 400 people living along the St. Lawrence River have signed a petition asking the International Joint Commission to update its water management plan and keep the water levels high on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.
The petition, written by the International Water Levels Coalition, urges the IJC to implement Plan B+, which is expected to improve wetland environments and other areas significantly by mimicking the natural flux of Lake Ontario before the Moses-Saunders hydroelectric dam at Massena was built.
Beatrice D. Schermerhorn, co-founder of the coalition, said the group will submit the signatures to the IJC later this month.
"The economic viability in the north country depends heavily on tourism, and tourism depends heavily on the St. Lawrence River. Forty-nine out of the 50 years that the current regulation plan has been in place, it didn't work. People are worried that the low water is going to hurt their businesses again this year," she said. "The River Board of Control needs to start holding back some water now, and IJC needs to update their outdated plan."
The commission initially planned to sign a new order of approval for the St. Lawrence River Hydropower Project by the end of 2008 and implement a new water management plan shortly thereafter, but never followed through. More recently, representatives from the U.S. and Canadian federal governments, New York state, Ontario, Quebec and the IJC have been meeting since December to review the current regulations and exchange views on a new regulation.
Plan B+, one of three flow management protocols laid out in a five-year study, is widely endorsed in Northern New York but opposed by property owners on the south shore of Lake Ontario, who have argued that the plan will damage their lakefront homes with higher water levels, and by officials in Quebec.
These opponents have argued that maintaining a stable water level under the current regulation, 1958-D, has greater economic benefits and minimizes property damage along the shoreline.
Mrs. Schermerhorn, a Hammond marina owner, said people of the Thousand Islands region could argue the same. She said low water levels, caused partly by an outdated management plan, damage people's boats, scare away recreational boaters from the Thousand Islands and hurt the region's economy.
As of Sunday, the mean water level at Alexandria Bay was at 244.49 feet, about 20.7 inches lower than a year ago. On Lake Ontario, Oswego's water level was at 244.87 feet, 21.5 inches lower than last year.
However, John W. Kangas, secretary of the International St. Lawrence River Board of Control, had said the levels are still well within the 4-foot fluctuation limit considered "normal."
He said water levels are likely to remain fairly low this summer mainly because of below-average winter precipitation.
"This is not normal," said Hans C. Wahl of the French Creek Marina, Clayton. "People are going to damage their boats. I'm in the boat repair business, but it is not my desire to do business in that manner."
Mr. Wahl said boaters need to be extra cautious this year.
"The IJC and the board of control are ignoring the problem," he said. "If water levels remain low, as it is right now, we could lose customers to other waters. It's definitely going to have a negative impact on the region's economy."