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Save The River is sending telegrams like these - and a message that management of the St. Lawrence River is outdated - to Gov. Cuomo. [courtesy Save The River]
Save The River is sending telegrams like these - and a message that management of the St. Lawrence River is outdated - to Gov. Cuomo. [courtesy Save The River]

Save The River's throwback water levels strategy

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A Thousand Islands based green group is using a 1950s era technology to protest a water levels plan from the same decade. Save The River is sending Governor Andrew Cuomo hundreds of telegrams urging him to change the way the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario are managed. David Sommerstein reports.

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David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

Folks from Save The River in Clayton were sitting around one day, trying to find a new hook for an issue they’ve been working for more than a decade…getting regulators to use more “natural” seasonal ebbs and flows on the St. Lawrence.

When you’ve been fighting an issue for as long as we have, you spend a lot of time sitting around a table, just throwing ideas back and forth.

Save The River director Lee Willbanks says someone threw out, hey, the current system for controlling water levels was developed in 1958…

And I can speak as someone who was born in 1958.

They said, let’s put black and white pictures on our Facebook page of 50s cars without seat belts, people answering clunky old rotary phones, scientists reading ribbons of tape from  a computer the size of a room…

Not only was the water levels regime we’re working under now not developed on a computer, it was developed on a slide rule. I think those things work on a visual and intellectual level to say, we’re really in a new era and we need new tools and we need tools that use modern devices to respond to what’s going on in the environment.

What’s going on, green groups have argued for years, is the river has lost plant and wildlife diversity because the water level doesn’t rise and fall like it used to.

After ten years and 20 million dollars of study, the International Joint Commission, which controls those levels, has actually proposed a more sophisticated, 21st century regime that comes closer to the natural ebbs and flows, and benefits recreational boaters and shippers on the river, too.

But it could cause more erosion and other damage to homes on the southern shore of Lake Ontario. And for that reason, the plan has languished somewhere within the Cuomo Administration.

So Save The River took the 1950s out-of-date imagery one step further. They encouraged supporters to send actual telegrams to Governor Cuomo. Lee Willbanks reads one.

It’s not 1958 anymore. Stop. We’re way overdue for a modern water levels plan for Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Stop. Tell IJC to implement Plan BV7 today. Stop.

More than 600 people did send telegrams. Not at 1950s prices, though. They cost 5 dollars and 70 cents each.

Willbanks says he hasn’t heard a word in response. He jokes the next step is to send carrier pigeons to Albany. Or is he joking?

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