Lake Ontario outflow can’t match inflow, northern snowpack smaller that 2019

OTTAWA RIVER WATERSHED – As we reach the back half of winter there’s bad news to our west and good news to our north as it relates to the 2020 spring freshet.

First the bad news. Despite the fact more water than ever before was allowed to flow out of Lake Ontario during January, the lake level continued to rise, according to an announcement Friday (Feb. 7) from the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board (ILOSLRB)

The board, a subsidiary of the International Joint Commission (IJC), alters the outflows past the Moses-Saunders Dam at Massena and Cornwall, to try to avoid flooding.

Those outflows averaged 9.2 million litres every second during January, almost 757,082 litres per second more than the previous January record, which was set in 1987.

Despite that, the waters continued to rise, because the amount of water entering the lake from the Niagara River, from other streams and from precipitation also set a record: 10,144,903 litres per second, according to the board.

The Army Corps of Engineers said the lake level stood at 75.13 metres above sea level, which is 15.2 centimetres higher than a month ago and 17.8 centimeteres higher than a year ago at this time.

The IJC said Friday, despite its best efforts, unprecedented water levels originating in the Great Lakes continue to present an “increased risk of high water this spring.”

“Mild temperatures and minimal ice cover in the St. Lawrence River made it possible to release record amounts of water from Lake Ontario in January and continuing into February, but inflows to Lake Ontario also set records last month,” the IJC released in a statement. “The continuing trend of extremely high water supplies, which has now lasted over three years, continues to hamper the board’s efforts to help reduce flood risks throughout the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River System.”

The total amount of water released from Lake Ontario from January 2017 through December 2019 was the highest on record for any 36-month period, IJC officials said, but total inflows were also the highest on record.

Officials also described January as the sixth warmest on record in Cornwall, where the Moses-Saunders Dam is located, making it possible for the board to move forward with its above-average outflows.

The IJC said flows would be reduced temporarily starting Friday afternoon (Feb. 7) as ice had begun to re-form.

The board said it will “look for every window of opportunity to continue maximizing outflows to the extent possible to reduce the risk of high levels in 2020.”

The good news is we have fallen way behind 2019’s level of snowpack in the basin on this date according to weather prediction company InMeteo. InMeteo is a Czech meteorological company based in Pilsen. InMeteo focuses on weather prediction and meteorological data visualization using “a wealth of experience in presenting weather data from our portal, In-počasí, which was founded in 2006 and is now one of the highest-traffic servers in the Czech Republic.”

 Last year at this time there was about 4.5 to 7 feet of hard packed snow over 90 per cent of the entire basin with another month on the way before the rain came. This year there is about four feet covering around 40 per cent of the whole thing with the rest at around two and three feet.