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Water plan for St. Lawrence unpredictable, critics charge

Joint commission hearings. River levels might have to be artificially elevated, environmental coalition fears

CHRISTOPHER MAUGHAN, The Gazette

Published: 7 hours ago

 

The environmental and economic impact of a proposed plan to change how water flows into the St. Lawrence River is potentially disastrous and in many ways unpredictable, critics said last night.

 

The International Joint Commission - which manages how much water passes into the river from Lake Ontario - held public hearings in Montreal last night to discuss concerns about their proposal to allow water levels to rise and fall more sharply than they now do.

 

The IJC is an independent, bi-governmental organization that manages the Great Lakes. It controls water flow to Quebec via the Moses-Saunders dam, which runs across Lake Ontario from Cornwall, Ont., to Massena, N.Y.

 

Their commissioners have argued that more drastic changes in water levels would allow for the establishment of more diverse flora and fauna along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence.

 

But at the hearings last night, critics seemed far from convinced that the proposal would result in a net environmental gain.

 

"We haven't put enough effort into forecasting the different climate change scenarios," said Marc Hudon, a director at Nature Québec, an environmental coalition that represents 100 smaller groups.

 

Hudon worried that the IJC plan would allow water levels on the St. Lawrence to drop so low that Quebecers would be forced to artificially elevate the water, which could cause major environmental problems.

 

"If you have less water, you concentrate the contaminants in it," said Hudon, adding that even if the issue were addressed, the St. Lawrence would still suffer.

 

"We would have to keep the levels up artificially by slowing the water down. That makes the water hot. When the water's hot, fish flip upside down - they can't survive."

 

That's why Hudon is dead-set against the IJC's proposal, which is known as Plan 2007. A slightly modified proposal that takes wetland restoration into account shows promise, he said, but is too short on details to be adopted now. "We like the idea, but we don't want to go into it blind."

 

Montreal executive committee member Alan DeSousa echoed Hudon's concerns about a lack of specifics.

 

"We want to make sure we know what we're getting into and at this point we're not entirely sure we can say that," he told members of the IJC.

 

"There remain many questions as to the potential impact of the various plans, especially downstream."

 

DeSousa wondered whether the IJC had environmental contingency plans in place to deal with any serious environmental impact.

 

"We don't have any information at this time as to the scope of the (IJC's) mitigation measures," he said.

 

Marine transportation officials also expressed concerns, worrying about the potential impact on the economy.

 

"Just a 10-per-cent loss of the (volume of) the seaway would result in 28 more days a year the seaway would have to be closed," said Kirk Jones, director of transportation services at Canada Steamship Lines. "Ten percent or 28 days could add up to $250 million in losses."

 

Source

http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette/news/story.html?id=a37baa36-107d-4bc0-a482-78c6e52c158b

 

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