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In 2017, Lake Ontario Communities Were Ravaged By Intense Flooding, Leading To Millions In Damages; Current Climbing Water Levels Indicate A Major New Risk Of Floods

Schumer Today Announces That, Following His Advocacy, The U.S. Army Corps Of Engineers Has Issued A Declaration Of Emergency To Activate Its Emergency Operations Center And Mobilize Federal Support To Be Fully Prepared Should Destructive Flooding Occur

Schumer To USACE: Declaration Of Emergency Will Help Prepare Lake Ontario Communities To Weather The Worst

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced, following his push, that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Buffalo District has issued an official Declaration of Emergency to activate its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) – under Public Law 84-99 Flood Control and Coastal Emergencies – to join with state and local efforts to assist Lake Ontario communities in the event that Lake Ontario water levels continue rising to flood levels. Schumer explained that, according to the USACE, Lake Ontario water levels have risen 6 inches over the last month and are forecast to rise another 11 inches as it continues to get warmer, placing residents of neighboring communities at a major risk of flooding. Schumer thanked the USACE for its responsiveness in issuing the Declaration of Emergency and for helping to ensure that, in the event of major flooding, Lake Ontario communities will receive available federal support.

“As Lake Ontario’s water levels continue to climb, knowing that we are prepared to handle a repeat of 2017’s historic flooding could not be more important. This Declaration of Emergency will ensure that the Army Corps of Engineers is locked and loaded in the event of more flooding, ready to handle any emergency,” said Senator Schumer. “With the risk of flooding rising by the day, we cannot afford to push our luck. I want to thank the Army Corps for its quick response to my request and for preparing in advance to bolster state and local flood response teams by mobilizing federal resources to Lake Ontario.”

Schumer explained that the Declaration of Emergency activates the Buffalo USACE’s EOC and makes USACE subject matter experts available to provide direct technical assistance to town, country and state emergency response efforts. Specifically, the Buffalo District signed a Declaration of Emergency letter, and elevated the Emergency Operations Center from Level IV, Steady State Operations, to Level III, Monitoring Operations, the same level that was used in 2017 when technical assistance and flood control measures were provided to Lake Ontario communities. Schumer detailed that this includes providing review and recommendations in support of state and local efforts on flood fight techniques and emergency construction methods, inspecting existing flood protection projects and structurally threatened dams to identify problem areas and recommend corrective measures, providing hydraulic analysis, geotechnical evaluations, topography and stream data, maps, and historic flood or storm information.

Furthermore, Schumer added, the USACE will be working with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to issue a joint “General Permit”, similar to the Joint General Permit it issued during the 2017 floods, that will allow property owners, towns, villages and counties impacted by flooding to make emergency storm protection measures without going through the longer study and review permit process. This allows both towns and property owners to quickly execute shoreline protection measures like repairing or reinforcing break walls.

Schumer explained that over the past 60 years Lake Ontario water levels have only been as high as they were this February during prior Februaries on five occasions and that in two of those years – 1973 and 1993 – serious flooding occurred in the spring. Additionally, Schumer said that Lake Ontario is now only a foot lower than it was this time in 2017—at 246.93 feet—the year when the lake reached as high as 248.6 feet by June, which caused severe flooding across the coastline. Schumer explained that above average precipitation, combined with seasonal snowmelt, has increased water levels in lakes, streams and rivers across the Great Lakes, including the Lake Ontario Watershed in New York. Schumer said that with the entire Great Lakes basin receiving above average precipitation (111%) over the past week and with it forecast to receive more precipitation in the coming days—particularly in Lake Ontario—flood conditions could change quickly, requiring a swift response.

Schumer has been pushing emergency preparation measures along Lake Ontario for months in this specific flooding season and for years beforehand. In March of this year, Schumer called on the International Joint Commission (IJC) and International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board of Control to assess and take all actions possible to mitigate flood risks to surrounding communities, including the appropriate maximization of outflows at the Moses-Saunders Dam. Additionally, later on in March, Schumer voiced his support for the confirmation of three nominees to the IJC, to ensure the Commission was appropriately staffed to address the rising Lake Ontario water levels.

Furthermore, Schumer explained, in 2017, many communities along the southern shore of Lake Ontario suffered significant flooding and related property damage, economic dislocation and significant negative impacts to quality of life. Prior to the flooding, Schumer successfully called on the USACE to activate its Emergency Operations Center, allowing the USACE to assist New York State in response efforts and deploy technical assistance teams. Additionally, Schumer helped facilitate a “General Permit”, signed by the USACE and NYSDEC in 2017, as well. Schumer also played a paramount role in securing aid for these communities in the wake of the flooding, including arranging for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deploy two expert federal mitigation teams to Lake Ontario communities to help address the flooding issues and successfully pushing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to issue a major disaster declaration, which enabled federal recovery and repair funding to flow to Jefferson, Niagara, Orleans, Oswego, St. Lawrence, Wayne, Cayuga, and Monroe Counties.

A copy of Schumer’s original letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers appears below.

Dear Lt. Col. Toth,

I write to request the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Buffalo District stand ready to use its authority under Public Law 84-99 Flood Control and Coastal Emergencies to activate its Emergency Operation Center and assist Lake Ontario communities in the event that Lake Ontario water levels rise to flood levels. 

According to the USACE April 19, 2019 Weekly Great Lakes Water Level Update, Lake Ontario is 6 inches higher than one month ago and over the next 30 days, all of the Great Lakes’ water levels are projected to continue their upward seasonal rise with Lake Ontario forecast to rise 11 inches.  Lake Ontario is now at 246.93 ft, slightly below the 247.60 ft it reached at this time in 2017, the year when the Lake reached as high as 248.6 by June causing severe flooding across the Lake Ontario coastline.

In 2017 to help communities respond to the flooding I wrote to request the USACE to mobilize and provide flood protection assistance.  As a result of my request, the USACE Buffalo District declared a Declaration of Emergency on May 3, 2017 allowing the USACE to activate its Emergency Operations Center to (EOC) to assist in the flood fighting efforts by deploying technical assistance teams to impacted towns to provide guidance and aid in conducting and constructing emergency flood control measures, disseminating over 170,000 sandbags, conducting flood reconnaissance, and staffing its EOC per its P.L. 84-99 Flood Control and Coastal Emergencies authority. 

With the entire Great Lakes basin receiving above average precipitation (111%) over the past week and with it forecast to receive more precipitation in the coming days particularly in Lake Erie and Ontario, flood risk conditions could change quickly requiring a quick response.  As such as I appreciate your consideration of my request to stand ready to mobilize to join in any flood fighting response in the event that Lake Ontario water levels rise to flood levels.