Near Record High Water Levels Place Great Lakes Shoreline Residents, Seaway in Very Bad Spot

Seaway shipping stoppages this December 2019 would cost economy $250 million/per week

“We have the greatest sympathy for Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River residents and business owners that have been impacted by flooding due to unprecedented weather conditions. This situation has also cost our supply chain millions of dollars,” – Canada/U.S. Chamber of Marine Commerce President Bruce Burrows.

Signficant parts of the Port Dalhousie Harbour area and Lakeside Park is under water for the second time in just three years this past spring of 2019 due to near record high water levels in Lake Ontario. File photo by Doug Draper

News from the Canada/U.S. Chamber of Marine Comierce, with a Foreword from Niagara At Large reporter Doug Draper

Posted November 25th, 2019 on Niagara At Large

A Foreword by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper –

I still wonder what, if anything, was going through the head of Doug Ford – the most dangerously stupid person who has served as Ontario premier in my 40 years as a news reporter while he was visiting communities in the Ottawa area and lower Great Lakes this spring, where people were suffering countless hundreds of millions of dollars of destruction to their properties from near-record flooding.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, visiting communities suffering severe damage from near record-high flooding earlier this year. During the same time these floods were destroying thousands of Ontario residents’ properties, Ford and his government were cutting funding for flood management programs that cost a mere fraction of the dollar damage these floods were doing to whole neighbourhoods and communities in the province. Does the premier know how to do math?

To be sure, scientists can hardly say with certainty that any one single flood or violent wind storm or other severe weather event was caused by climate change. But now, more than ever before, the growing severity and frequency of these events,  make climate change, for most scientists around the world, the primary suspect.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford claims that we will actually come out ahead if he saves us a few pennies per litre fighting the federal government’s effort to put a price on climate-damaging carbon pollution. His Tory allies Andrew Scheer and Jason Kenny are joining him in this fight.

And yet there was Ford, doing his ‘everyday-guy, my-heart-feels-for-these-people schtick, while visiting homeowners who have experienced major damage to their homes  this past spring and summer. And at the same time, he and his anti-environment Conservative government were cutting funding for flood-management across  Ontario, for planting trees that help absorb greenhouse gases, and were generally working away at weakening rules and regulations for protecting and preserving our watersheds and green spaces.

Ford and his government were also waging an ongoing crusade to gut renewable energy programs on behalf of his   friends and allies in the tar sands and other dirty energy enterprises – a campaign that we are now learning is costing  Ontario’s taxpayers more than $200 million and counting, not to mention the long-term damage it is doing  to our air, water and other life-sustaining resources.

Examples of the costly or potentially costly consequences of Ford and friends’ war on the environment go on and on.

Standing in solidary in their costly court battle against putting a price on carbon pollution, Ontario Premier Doug Ford (left) and Albert Premier Jason Kenney, defender of the tar sands

And here is one of the  latest ones, reported  in the news release below, about the terrible choice governments in Canada and the United States may now have to make around whether or not to open dams at the St. Lawrence River end of the Great Lakes to lower near-record high water levels to  save shoreline properties in the lower lakes from any further damage.

Do the governments do that or do they leave water levels high enough to spare marine shipping companies and the many customers they serve, including farmers, industrial manufacturers and others) from losing more than $200 million collectively per week in reduced shipping in the Seaway system.

What is so deceiving and dishonest about the dollar figures Ford and his partisan allies like federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney put out when they make their arguments about how much it will cost taxpayers to fight climate change is that, wilfully or not, they do not discuss how much it will cost if we either don’t fight it at all, or do not fight it hard enough.

They traffic in junk economics – all in an attempt to show how much we will save by cutting climate programs, while virtually ignoring how much more it will cost those of us who are here now and future generations by backing off or killing those programs.

And Ford and company will go on peddling  this deceptive garbae if enough people  continue to let them.

What is alarming is that time has almost run out for people who’ve been swallowing this bunk to wake up and realize that the  damage and destruction that awaits us will be far more costly than spending a few more cents per litre in an effort to encourage a little less  use of carbon-spewing fossil fuels.

A map illustrating some of the record high water levels measured in the Great Lakes earlier this 2019

Now here is the news release from the Canada/U.S. Chamber of Marine Commerce –

Closing the St. Lawrence Seaway in December to accommodate higher water outflow at the Moses-Saunders dam would cost the Canadian and U.S. economies $250 million/per week* — impacting farmers’ grain exports, manufacturing plant operations and disrupting deliveries of fuel, construction materials and road salt for winter safety to cites throughout the region.

A commercial ship navigating one of the vital channels in the Great Lakes Seaway system, the Welland Canal in Niagara, Ontario

The Chamber of Marine Commerce issued This November 22nd’s comments to provide a wider  context of the economic repercussions related to calls to increase the water outflow at Moses-Saunders dam to levels that would be unsafe for navigation and halt shipping on the St. Lawrence Seaway during December.

Increasing outflows above the safe navigation limit to the highest levels possible would lower Lake Ontario levels less than 4 centimetres a week. In a closure situation, it would take more than two weeks to clear ship traffic and removal of buoys duties before outflows begin.

Ice conditions could also prohibit maximum levels. This negligible reduction would come at a huge cost to commercial navigation.

“We have the greatest sympathy for Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River residents and business owners that have been impacted by flooding due to unprecedented weather conditions. This situation has also cost our supply chain millions of dollars,” says Chamber of Marine Commerce President Bruce Burrows.

Canada/U.S. Chamber of Marine Commerce President Bruce Burrows.

“Halting St. Lawrence Seaway shipping altogether would cause major harm to our economy and achieve no noticeable benefit for flooding victims. We call on the IJC and government leaders to collaborate with affected stakeholders to find solutions that look at shoreline resiliency, flood management zones and what can be done during the winter when the St. Lawrence Seaway is closed to navigation.”

The costs of stopping commercial navigation at this critical point in December will significantly affect industries that have organized their supply chains around the Seaway’s shipping season. Even if companies were able to find alternative transportation (with this very short notice), this would cost considerably more and force huge volumes of cargo onto thousands of trucks at the detriment to the environment and road congestion.

  •   * Steel mills load up on iron ore pellets and coal at season end and are normally at critically low levels by the beginning of April
  • * The fall is the busiest grain export season right up to the end of December, and by March the elevator systems are normally full and pushing for Seaway vessels as soon as the system opens
  • * U.S. and Canadian communities move road salt in great volumes at the end of the season and again at opening, as their inventories often struggle to make it through an entire winter.

Quotes from St. Lawrence Seaway stakeholders:

“Any disruption to St. Lawrence Seaway shipping will have an impact on the Canadian grain industry, including Prairie farmers, who are already experiencing the harvest from hell.

“Grain exporters make sales six, nine and even twelve months in advance. They are contractually obligated to execute on sales contracts and a premature Seaway closure, would result in costly contract defaults and grain sitting in Thunder Bay until the opening of navigation in the spring. We are concerned that delayed shipments due to a scheduled Seaway closure could rekindle customer concerns about Canada’s ability to supply product.” ––Wade Sobkowich, Executive Director of the Western Grain Elevator Association (WGEA), representing major grain businesses which collectively handle in excess of 95% of western Canada’s bulk grain exports.

“Closing the St. Lawrence Seaway season early would be the worst possible scenario. The final weeks of the year are among the busiest at the ports of Hamilton and Oshawa. In 2018, approximately 66 ships carried a million metric tons of cargo through Hamilton and Oshawa in just the last 20 days of the year.

“Manufacturers are stockpiling raw materials for winter operations. For example, Arcelor Mittal Dofasco is expecting to ship 200,000 metric tons of iron ore pellets from their mines in Quebec to Hamilton in the month of December to sustain operations through the first quarter of 2020. Ontario farmers have also just finished their harvests and are bringing soybeans to port for export.

Navigating the locks in the Welland Canal in Niagara, Ontario

“If port users could even find alternative transportation at this short notice, it would likely be by truck, costing companies and consumers more and resulting in more than 40,000 truck trips between the GTHA and Montreal at a 500% increase in carbon emissions. “ –Ian Hamilton, President and CEO of the Hamilton-Oshawa Port Authority

About the Chamber of Marine Commerce – The Chamber  of Marine Commerce is a bi-national association that represents more than 130 marine industry stakeholders including major Canadian and American shippers, ports, terminals and marine service providers, as well as domestic and international ship owners. The Chamber advocates for safe, sustainable, harmonized and competitive policy and regulation that recognizes the marine transportation system’s significant advantages in the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence, Coastal and Arctic regions.

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2 responses to “Near Record High Water Levels Place Great Lakes Shoreline Residents, Seaway in Very Bad Spot

  1. I cannot be be the only one not clear on the consequences of opening and closing dams on the St. Lawrence Seaway System particularly where water flow and resulting water levels are concerned and how that affects shipping. I am a visual person who understands better with the aid of maps and laser pointers. It would be wonderful if Canada/U.S. Chamber of Marine Commerce President, Bruce Burrows, could visit communities most affected on both sides of the border to better explain the problems and logistics.


  2. Mr Burrows worries about the economic losses that will result to industries but, while he has “the greatest sympathy” for flooded residents, he fails to take into account their losses, both personal and financial.
    What we all need to take into account – industries, residents and politicians, in other words all of us – is that ignoring climate change, the elephant in the room, will continue to have an effect on everybody.
    Their remedy is to treat the symptoms while stubbornly refusing to admit the cause and implement the cure, usually for financial gain. The underlying disease will not go away but will only get worse. For a comparison, putting salve and a bandage on a flesh eating ulcer means the entire leg will eventually be lost or the person will die. We already have the diagnosis and know the treatment but many refuse to accept it or to implement the cure.
    In the long run, the costs, both in dollars and in personal trauma, will far outweigh any other losses.


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