Preview given of lake-level study (Lake Ontario)
Written by Rochester Democrat & Chronicle   
Wednesday, 26 January 2005 18:23
For years, Jack Moore of Rochester has watched high water levels in Lake Ontario gobble up the sandy beach in front of his Hamlin cottage and knock car-size rocks out of erosion-control structures

"This is a hot issue," said the 65-year-old, whose family has owned the cottage since the 19th century. Officials who manage water levels in the lake aren't listening, he said.

But Tuesday evening, about 80 area residents ? Moore among them ? got a sneak preview of a five-year, $25 million international study that will measure the impact of fluctuating water levels on houses, beaches, dunes and shoreline protection structures.

Commissioned in 2000 by the International Joint Commission, the study is the most comprehensive ever done for the binational 95-year-old Great Lakes advisory group.

It will access and quantify the impact of different models of water-level manipulation on a variety of lakefront interests: residents, industrial and municipal water users, boaters and power generators.

The full study is due this fall, along with recommendations.

A researcher for the IJC's so-called Coastal Processes Technical Work Group presented preliminary findings at the Greece Town Hall.

There are nine such technical groups contributing to the study on diverse topics, including shipping, hydropower, water use and hydrogeology. The Rochester area, with its concentration of lakeside property owners, is one of the IJC's favored sites for assessing public opinion on water-levels issues.

Canadian geoscientist Peter Zuzek, with the engineering firm Baird & Associates, presented the coastal group's preliminary findings.

Some highlights: Shoreline erosion is highest during aggressive fall, winter and spring storms ? but it's a natural process and will continue whatever water levels are chosen.

And the widespread building of shoreline protection structures ? 60 percent of Lake Ontario coastal structures have them ? has an ironic effect: Less sand and gravel is generated by wave action, making disappearing beaches like Moore's even less likely to return.

Without the regulation of water levels, which started about 1960, said Zuzek, all the problems shoreline residents complain about ? erosion, flooding and fading beaches ? would have been far worse.

The rate of water flowing out of Lake Ontario is manipulated at the Moses-Saunders Power Dam, which spans the St. Lawrence River at Massena, St. Lawrence County.

"You're better off with the dam than without it," said Zuzek. "That's the science."

A U.S.-Canadian group, the International St. Lawrence River Board of Control, makes water-level decisions. Fluctuations often pit shoreline residents (who want low water) against commercial interests (such as lake freight companies), which favor high water.

The IJC study of water-level management will have a calming effect on all the warring interests ringing the lake, said Henry Stewart, a lawyer from North Greece who is president of the Lake Ontario South Shore Council and a member of the IJC's public interest advisory group.

Before this, people on the (St. Lawrence) river thought they were at odds with the people on the lake, and vice versa," he said.

"They don't have to be in competition. Things can be worked out."

Arleen Kreusch, an IJC public affairs staffer who works out of Buffalo, said experts on the study's coastal issues will be back for public meetings this summer in Greece and in lakefront towns in Niagara and St. Lawrence counties.

They'll release draft proposals, she said, and hunt for public reaction.

And, in just a few months, said Zuzek, property owners along the lake shore ? and anyone else with Internet access ? can see the study's enormous database.

It divides the binational Lake Ontario coastline into "reaches" measuring less than a mile ? discrete spans that detail hundreds of data points, from the height of buildings and type of seawalls to geological formations to the history of storms and waves for each location.

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