To the editor,
I am from Fulton, right in the heart of Oswego County. My parents met in a dormitory at SUNY Oswego, I grew up on Rudy’s Fish Fry and in the summer, my family would spend days at Fair Haven. I moved away from the area about a year ago, but my heart is still very much there. Oswego County is my home and it always will be.
It breaks my heart to see the landmarks of my childhood slipping into Lake Ontario. These material parts of my memories that are disappearing before my eyes. It is painful to watch, and even more painful from afar. Some are calling this frequent inundation of coastal Lake Ontario “the new normal.” People are losing their homes, businesses and material memories as well. Much of the public has blamed the International Joint Commission (IJC) for this flooding and I understand. When something traumatic happens, we want to blame something.
For those not familiar with the IJC, it is a committee of scientists and engineers from Canada and the U.S. who try to manage bordering watersheds in ways that benefit both countries. The commission does not actually control the water levels. Their goal is to figure out how to properly distribute the millions of gallons of water which flow through the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes every year (i.e. how much water can be released from dams on the St. Lawrence, while not flooding all of Montreal at the same time).
Watersheds are complicated systems and large amounts of spring rain such as this year’s have presented many challenges. In 2014, the IJC was faced with more frequent and heavy precipitation. In response, ‘Plan 2014’ was drafted, changing the amount of water released and held during times of flooding or drought at the Moses Saunders power dam. The new fluctuating flood regimes model the natural flow of water in the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario watersheds before there were any dams. This effectively increases the range of yearly water flow from the dam.
This plan was developed to manage runoff from historic precipitation events while protecting imperiled ecosystems and our communities. In short, the IJC is not a malicious organization trying to destroy my childhood home, it is trying to cope with a biblical amount of precipitation. The previous plan developed in 1958 was outdated and was not able to handle these new extreme floods. It was also slowly damaging sport fish spawning habitat and letting invasive species creep in. If you are familiar with these areas of New York and Canada, you probably understand why this is bad. A good chunk of our economy here is based on tourism and sport fishing. If our ecosystem were to collapse, our communities would follow suit. This plan was the immediate solution. Either we cope with the flooding and rebuild, or we lose our ecosystem entirely. There is no winning.
If this is what science is saying how the un-dammed St. Lawrence River would flow, then something bigger is happening. It means that water levels are rising because increased precipitation is now considered “natural.” The IJC can try and manage the water level rising. It cannot stop it. The truth is that our summers are becoming warmer and wetter. Our winters are milder and this is causing the flooding. We are reaching unprecedented water levels because our climate is changing. The loss of our homes is not because of a committee scrambling to keep our heads above water. We must accept this fact and act on it now.
If you want to help change our new normal, stop petitioning the IJC to reverse plan 2014 — it would make our current situation catastrophic. The IJC is not your enemy. Climate change is. You can help stop the future flooding of your homes by speaking out and supporting legislation like H.R. 763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. This bill would tax carbon fuels which will encourage big industry to switch to renewable energy. Additionally, the dividends from these fees will go to you the taxpayer. Write to our senators and congresspersons to ask for this bill to be passed. Then, demand more of it. If there is a unified voice asking for the same thing, they will listen. And if they don’t listen? Vote them out. Our livelihoods are on the line.
For all who, like me, are losing their memories, remember this: You have power. Take it back. Do not blame the IJC for taking it away from you. They never did. You must take it back from the companies who pollute our atmosphere with metric tons of greenhouse gases that are warming our atmosphere. Take it back from talking heads in Washington D.C. who do not understand what you have lost. Use your voice as a constituent because that is your power and when combined with others it is unstoppable. Your actions will not result in immediate gratification. You will not get your homes back tomorrow; but you will make a path for the future. Use your voice to ensure that your children will never lose their memories or their houses or their life savings rebuilding just as you have. Do not become complacent with this terrible new normal. Fight it.