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Niagara County on alert for high Lake Ontario levels

Veronica Volk File Photo
Sandbags stocked in preparation for high waters.

Two years ago, there was serious flood damage along the Lake Ontario shore, especially in tourist places like Wilson. The water was well above normal and the winds kept coming from the north, pushing the high water even higher onto the shore and into the boating harbors. This year, the water is high and creeping upward, putting Wilson officials on alert again.

The Wilson Fire Company and other first responders and officials along the southern shore of Lake Ontario are watching the weather forecasts for rain or snow and the dreaded north wind.

The level of Lake Ontario is creeping upward, partly because of the amount of water flowing down from Lake Erie and partly because a dam on the St. Lawrence River has been raised to avoid making the flooding downstream worse than it already is, particularly in the area around Montreal.

In Wilson, Fire Chief Aaron Walker said he and the assistant chiefs prowl around looking for the water rising and potentially flooding Wilson, as it did two years ago.

"The water is a little high right now, but there's no flooding. The docks aren't underwater," Walker said. "If we do get a strong north wind, then that's when we're going to be running into some trouble. The docks going underwater and some issues with the flooding in the low-lying areas."

There were lessons learned from two years ago. Albany is staging massive pumps in Hamburg and moving some into place along the lake shore, rather than downstate.

"2017 they didn't have the pumps in the area. They actually had to drive Upstate to get the pumps, so it was days before we got 'em," Walker said. "Now they're staged in Hamburg. They brought them down really early this time, just in case, and then they are setting up with the National Guard to have them activated."

Walker said the National Guard is on alert, so that it comes in to help with the sandbagging earlier in the flood-proofing process than it did two years ago. He said Wilson also bought a new trailer to handle more sandbags, meaning less trips getting loading up with the sandbags.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.