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NYS mobilizes resources in preparation for Lake Ontario flooding

james Morgan
A flooded road in Rigaud, Quebec.

With concerns about rising levels on Lake Ontario, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Sunday that he has directed state agencies to begin deploying resources to protect communities along the lakeshore.

The level of Lake Ontario currently is about a foot above its long-term historic average. While high, it is not all that unusual, according to Bryce Carmichael, U.S. Secretary of the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board, which helps manage lake levels.

One complicating factor is recent severe flooding downstream, near Montreal. The most dire situation is in Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, Que., a suburb west of Montreal that was inundated Saturday night after the Lake of Two Mountains burst through a natural dike.

More than 5,000 residents were forced to grab what essentials they could, including pets, and flee as waist-high water filled their streets and homes. Another 1,500 people were evacuated the following day.

Several more days of flooding are expected across Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick. To help alleviate that situation, the river board has not been able to let out as much water from Lake Ontario through the Moses-Saunders Dam, as it might normally would.

Carmichael said recent rains could also be a factor with this situation.

“We do expect that to impact the lake levels and continue the rise, but I’d also like to note that this is not totally out of the realm of normal conditions for this time of year; we always see rising water levels on the lake during the spring,” Carmichael said.

2017 saw severe flooding along the south shore of Lake Ontario, but officials are not sure yet to what extent there might be flooding this spring. With precipitation forecasted for the northeast in the coming days and no word on when outflows will be increased, Cuomo said he wants to take proactive measures.

Credit James Morgan / NCPR News
Sandbags lined up for flood protection in Lachute, Quebec.

Cuomo said that 216,000 sandbags have begun to be deployed to strategic sites in Niagara, Orleans, Cayuga, Jefferson, Monroe, Oswego, St. Lawrence and Wayne Counties. The state is also prepared to deploy more than 6,700 feet of a temporary barrier called an aquadam to protect shoreline properties if needed.

The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision is currently providing two 12-man work crews made up of eligible state prisoners to fill sand bags.

A crew from Willard Drug Treatment Center is also working at the state Department of Transportation facility in Sodus. The other crew is filling sandbags at the state DOT facility in Hilton. The state corrections department has the capacity to activate six additional work crews in the coming days as needed.

Also, the state DOT is overseeing sandbagging operations at its facilities in each of the eight counties that border Lake Ontario. These efforts have already begun in Wayne and Monroe counties, where more than 10,000 sandbags were filled this weekend and are ready for deployment.

Carmichael said it is hard to say where levels will be in the next month or so.

The dike breach near Montreal brought to 5,584 the total number of flooded homes in Quebec, with some 7,566 forced to evacuate.  In Ottawa, hundreds of military members joined more than 2,000 volunteers in preparing sandbags for properties threatened by flooding along the bloated Ottawa River.

Canadian Armed Forces personnel are also packing and stacking sandbags in central Ontario's cottage country, where flooding has prompted the declaration of states of emergency in the communities of Bracebridge, Muskoka Lakes, Huntsville and Minden Hills.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's Director of News and Public Affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.
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