Cuomo directs DEC to sue IJC over water levels

Raindrops fall on the St. Lawrence River over submerged docks with Zitka Island just off the shore from Oak Point, Hammond. The docks on the island were weighted with barrels to kee them from drifting away in June. (Photo provided — Christopher Lenney, Watertown Daily times)

The state Department of Environmental Conservation will sue the International Joint Commission for what it deems as “mismanagement of Lake Ontario water levels” in the wake of widespread flooding and shoreline damage this year.

The commission regulates the shared uses of binational waterways between the U.S. and Canada, particularly projects like dams that can affect their height and flow. It oversees the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board, which is tasked with managing outflows from Lake Ontario through Robert Moses-Robert H. Saunders Power Dam in Massena and Cornwall, Ontario.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the lawsuit Wednesday, which accuses the commission of failing to perform its duty to protect shoreline property owners, creating a nuisance by impeding citizens use and enjoyment of their land through its mismanagement and invading property by not reducing water levels fast enough. The DEC seeks compensation for more than $4 million in damage to the state from high water levels and widespread inundation that cannot yet be repaired.

“The facts of the matter are plain: The IJC’s function is to manage the Lake Ontario water levels, and they failed – period. They have been wholly unresponsive and have taken no action to make the situation better,” Gov. Cuomo said in a statement. “We will not shoulder the burden of the destruction that is a direct result of the IJC’s gross mismanagement of Lake Ontario water levels, and the IJC needs to compensate New York for the severe damage to the homes and businesses along the shoreline. That’s what this lawsuit is all about.”