MONTREAL - As part of a bi-national strategy to manage this summer's historically low water levels in the St. Lawrence, Canadian and United States officials have agreed to release more water from Lake Ontario through the dam in Cornwall.
Hundreds of thousands of cubic feet per second is already being drawn from Lake Ontario and the flow through the Cornwall dam could be more than doubled by the end of summer, Peter Yeomans said Sunday.
"The past month we've been managing this precious resource on a day-to-day basis," said Yeomans, a Canadian member of the International St. Lawrence River Board of Control, the Canada-U.S. agency that manages water levels in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence.
But given that Lake Ontario's shoreline recedes up to nine metres with each additional centimetre the lake's water level is reduced, Yeomans quickly added, the decision is not without risks and environmental costs.
Lake Ontario "could be drawn down by up to four centimetres" and the lake's level already has been reduced by 1.4 centimetres to deal with the lower water levels that have resulted from this winter's lighter-than-usual snowfall, he said.
Yeomans made the comments as Canadian government officials stepped up their campaign to warn recreational boaters and mariners of the increased risk of running aground in the St. Lawrence and to update navigational charts before leaving the harbour.
This weekend, the water level in Lac St. Louis as measured at a federal government gauging station at the foot of Cartier Ave. in Pointe Claire stood at 20.6 metres above sea level, a dangerously low level and the point at which a one-centimetre change in the water level signals an alert for the seaway.
No matter how familiar a recreational boater may be with the St. Lawrence, this summer it is necessary to check the latest data available on water levels and to update the marine charts that are used for navigation, said Nathalie Letendre, a spokesperson for the Canadian Coast Guard's operations in Quebec.
Letendre said the federal government website www.marinfo.gc.ca is updated daily with data collected by the Canadian Hydrographic Service at gauging stations along the St. Lawrence.
But there's nothing like hearing a first-hand account from a fellow boater who has damaged his keel or hit rocks and taken out a motor to get even the most seasoned recreational boater to double-check his marine charts.
Vaclav Soucek, the harbour manager at the Pointe Claire Yacht Club, said some members with deeper keels have been unable to get out and other members have hit rocks and sandy shoals while on the water.
"We're telling people to not cut corners and to stay dead centre in the channels," Soucek said.
But Jin Frati, the sailing master at the Beaconsfield Yacht Club, said while water levels are also the talk at his club, they haven't stopped people from sailing. "You just need to be careful," he said.
Meanwhile, Yeomans said, Canadian and U.S. officials are evaluating the impact of this summer's low water levels and the impact of any change on a wide range of commercial and environmental interests.
Increased summer demands on hydroelectric power generated at station, such as that of Hydro-Québec's substation on the St. Lawrence at Beauharnois, have to be taken into consideration.
Municipalities may also face increased costs for water filtration as the lower water levels have led to more turbidity and sediment in the St. Lawrence waters. Water levels in wells may be affected. Lake Ontario's commercial fishery could potentially suffer, as could wetland habitats, shorelines and endangered species.
Then, there's the dry, hot weather forecast for the summer that will not help water levels.
"We're talking headaches," said Yeomans, a Montrealer whom many would remember as the former mayor of Dorval. "The premise is no one interest should bear the brunt of the impact."Have Fun and Remember Verdun