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Low water near Oak Point on the St. Lawrence River. Photo: Bill Merna, from NCPR Photo of the Day archives
Low water near Oak Point on the St. Lawrence River. Photo: Bill Merna, from NCPR Photo of the Day archives

Low water levels come in handy for Sandy

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One potential consequence of Sandy that emergency personnel haven't been worried about is widespread flooding from the region's largest bodies of water. That's because Lake Champlain, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River are all at low levels already.

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The drought this summer may have caused a lot of damage. But it may contribute an assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, in the form of low water levels on Lake Champlain. 

Eric Day, emergency services director in Clinton County, says he's not worried about a repeat of the shoreline flooding and wind surges that hit the region hard in the spring of 2011: "There may be a little bit of bigger waves that might impact some shoreline, but I’m not concerned with that, not like we were last spring, and if we do get a lot of rain, the Lake will absorb it. It is very low."

We can take a pretty big kick from Mother Nature, precipitation- wise.
To the west on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, boaters complain every year about low water levels this time of year. But right now that may come in handy.

"We can take a pretty big kick from Mother Nature, precipitation-wise", says John Kangas. He's the U.S. secretary for the International St. Lawrence River Board of Control, which manages water levels on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. He says Lake Ontario is currently below historic averages for this time of year: "So what that means is the Lake can absorb a lot of precipitation directly on the surface and also run-off from the rivers."

Kangas says his biggest concern is flooding downriver in the port of Montreal: "Looks like the entire St. Lawrence River basin could get a good amount of rain, we could have local rivers that drain into the Montreal area and the Ottawa River raising levels near Montreal to flood stage. If that happens, the St. Lawrence Board would reduce the flow out of Lake Ontario to avoid flooding."

The U.S. Coast Guard in the area spent much of Monday calling around to marinas to urge people to stay off the water and remove their boats if possible. Master Chief Sean Sulski is the officer in charge at the Coast Guard station in Alexandria Bay. He says most people say they've either pulled their boats, or "they’ve got the lines doubled up or tripled up in some cases."

Sulski says high winds forecast to whip up eastern Lake Ontario aren’t likely to have much effect in the Thousand Islands: "Then the opening to the St. Lawrence River, those communities right on the edge of it, are subject to some heavy seas, but the river itself makes a pretty good turn and there’s a couple islands that kind of guard against any major seas making their way too far down the river."

Forecasts show Sandy tracking right over Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties and down the St. Lawrence River. It’s unlikely to be even a tropical storm by then, but it is likely to bring more rain through Friday.

Officials believe the North Country’s lakes and rivers have enough extra space to handle it.


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