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Lake Ontario Low water levels


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Rochester, NY -- It happens every Spring -- water levels on Lake Ontario are low. But some marina owners are saying the water level is lower this year than in previous years.

Lake levels rise and fall seasonally, mainly due to precipitation and snow melt. The region had a rainy period in January that reduced the snow pack significantly. Then March went down in the record books as the first snow-free March in Rochester's history. In the end, there wasn't much snow pack left -- snow pack that typically contributes to a big Spring boost for lake levels.

The water level in Lake Ontario is regulated by power plants on the St. Lawrence River. We checked with the Army Corps of Engineers, and their goal is to keep water level fluctuations to a minimum. As of Wednesday morning, the Rochester gauge measured about 4" below what is considered "normal" but still well within their 4-foot fluctuation allowance. Still, marinas are concerned about the slow start to the season.

David Heimes, sales manager at McMillan Marine on Irondequoit Bay, describes the low water level. He says, "you'll see that there's mud going up about 2 feet up. That's where it (the water) should be to this point. All of the seagulls you see are not floating, they're standing on land. And as of yesterday, you could have seen all that land."

Low water levels can lead to costly boat damage, or not being able to launch boats at all. Water levels typically come back up by the summer months, but are forecast to remain slightly lower than average this year. Marinas are concerned that if the water level does remain low, they'll be facing some real problems.

By Brandon Roth

Thursday, April 01, 2010 at 10:46 p.m.

Read more: Local, Water Issue, Environment, Lake Ontario, Low Water Levels, Boating, Fishing

OSWEGO -- Low water levels in Lake Ontario are raising concerns for charter fishing boat captains who fear the low water level could delay the start of fishing season.

Lake Ontario, according to the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, is 14 inches below its level of a year ago. The relatively low snowfall this winter compared to last, combined with the lack of rain in March, have contributed to the problem.

Charter boat Captain Fred Maffeo says the low water levels are a concern. "It's the lowest I've ever seen it in the spring. Usually it is like this in late September," he says.

An international commission made up of both the United States and Canada controls the amount of water flowing into the lake from a dam on the St. Lawrence Seaway. Marina owners say shipping, not recreational boating or fishing, is the commission's top priority and that means they are not likely to take action to raise water levels in the lake any time soon.

The Army Corps of Engineers says water levels in Lake Ontario should rise seven inches in the next couple of weeks due to runoff from streams and rivers.

That may not be enough for fishing boat owners like Patty Lynn Decker, who says if the waters don't rise soon their business could sink. "It's the worse I've seen it," she says.

Low Lake Levels Concern Marina Owners

Tuesday, March 30 2010

Photo by Bill Huff Jr. | Wayuga Photographer

Krenzer Marine Sales owner Tim Habecker points out where the water level usually is on his dock at his Sodus Point business this time of year. Below, the water at his boat ramp is so shallow that trailers and risk damage while trying to put vessels in the water. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lake Ontario is 14 inches lower now than it was last March.

LAKE ONTARIO - Tim Habecker said the two boats he’s launched so far this season from Krenzer Marina’s ramp in Sodus Point have suffered damage because of low water levels on Lake Ontario.

“On Saturday, we put two mid-sized boats in the water,†he said. “One guy, just from ramp to his dock, it was so shallow that weeds and muck got sucked up into his strainer system. The other boat had prop damage. So far we had two boats and 100 percent damage.â€

Harbecker and some other area marina owners are worried that continued low lake levels will negatively impact their businesses this season because they can’t safely get boats in the water. At the south end of Sodus Bay, off Ridge Road in Huron, Bill Henner said roughly a third of his docks at Bay Bridge Marina have been impacted by low water.

Lake Ontario, according the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is 14 inches below its level of a year ago. Much of the difference between last year’s and this year’s levels on both Lake Ontario and Lake Erie can be attributed to the significant amount of snow that fell in 2009 versus the relatively little that has fallen this year.

Couple that with a mostly rainless March - 37 percent of the usual rainfall on the lake -- and the perception is that the lake level is significantly below normal. But Army Corps officials said that is not actually the case, when long term averages are concerned. Lake Ontario is actually only 4 inches short. The Army Corps started measuring lake levels in 1900.

Henner, however, said he doesn’t care about historic flow rate averages. In 35 years he can’t remember a season where the water started out this low. Although the U.S. Army Corps indicates that construction of break walls, docks and other structures don’t impact lake levels, Henner sees it differently. He said Lake Ontario in 2010 is much different from what the lake was in the 1940s, for example, and the comparison in level isn’t relevant.

“I think they can control it better,†Henner said.

The level of the lake not impacted by Mother Nature is largely controlled by the International Joint Commission, made up of officials from Canada and the U.S., which regulates flow from a power dam on the St. Lawrence Seaway. George Cotroneo, a member of the Corps of Engineers with a seat on the commission, said the level is set according to a plan that is supposed to minimize highs and lows and take into consideration all of the parties that have an interest in the lake level.

Habecker also thinks the U.S. Army Corps could do better.

“They opened the flood gates on the St. Lawrence around Labor Day and it fell a foot in 10 days and it never came back,†he said.

Chris Drogi, owner of Anchor Marina in Fair Haven, said he plans to begin putting boats in the water the end of this week. He said if the level is too slow to come up, then the water will be “scary low.

“What I am seeing now, it’s a little bit too early to be upset or nervous,†Drogi said. “We usually see an increase in water level from now until the end of May; the question is going to be, where we peak out? If we can build and build and build for the next two months, but if we don’t build, it’s going to be a tough year.â€

Lakes Ontario is expected to rise approximately seven inches in the next few weeks, but through the spring, all of the Great Lakes are expected to be below their levels of a year ago, according to the Corps of Engineers.

John Love of Arney’s Marina in Sodus Point said while the lake is low now, he’s not getting upset yet. He said time will tell what the lake is going to do.

“If it’s like this a month from now, then I’ll be concerned,†he said. “We don’t want it to remain where it is over the next 30 or 40 days.â€

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Myself personally, 33 years of fishing the big pond it is the lowest i have ever seen in the spring. In hearing people talking to the dec they say they are holding back water at the dam to keep the marshes from flooding???? I dont understand. Anybody else know any hearsay?

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