Residents petition IJC for more aquatic life protection

Image of Shawna O'Neill
By Shawna O'Neill
Residents petition IJC for more aquatic life protection
An aquatic creature seen in the low water on St. Lawrence River. Submitted photo.

SOUTH STORMONT, Ontario – A group of 1,100 concerned locals have signed a petition requesting that the International Joint Commission (IJC) acknowledge representation and insight from someone who is primarily focused on protecting aquatic life.

In the petition started by John Sliter of Ingleside, he explained that citizens ‘are outraged and concerned with the seemingly lack of care shown towards the aquatic life’ native to the St. Lawrence River amidst low water levels. 

“We need some assurance that someone is focused on the interests of the aquatic life within Lake Saint Lawrence,” said Sliter in a letter addressed to IJC Chair and Commissioner Pierre Béland. 

Due to high water levels in Lake Ontario, the IJC has increased outflows through the Moses-Saunders dam in Cornwall. Outflows from the dam sometimes equals more than four Olympic size swimming pools flowing through every second. These high outflows have lead to extremely low water levels in municipalities immediately west of the dam on the shores of Lake St. Lawrence, such as South Stormont and South Dundas.

RELATED: Water levels drastically fluctuate in St. Lawrence

In the petition, Sliter sited a study by the Canadian Water Resources Journal that suggests the following: “low flows in Canadian streams and rivers can be stressful for fish and other aquatic biota. Low flows can cause a reduction in habitat availability, food production, and water quality and can accentuate the effects of river ice during the winter.”

“I do not think you need be a scientist to see the traditional bays and inlets that are now dry and to think of the impact on our fish. The catfish winter habitat areas are now dry land…the spawning beds for other fish are also dry land! What about the minnows, the crayfish, turtles and all forms of aquatic life that have come to depend on the winter water levels for survival?” asked Sliter in the petition, seeking insight from the IJC on these implications. 

In the petition, it is suggested that Dr. Matt Windle, River Institute Research Scientist, be appointed to the International Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River Board to help address public concerns directed to the IJC. Cornwall Seaway News contacted Dr. Windle but did not receive a comment before time of publication. 

South Stormont Mayor Bryan McGillis is not surprised by the petition, stating that he has received countless communications of concern over how the water levels will impact local aquatic life, wildlife, tourism and property value.

“I think that would be a great idea…to have someone who is neutral, not actually (currently) sitting on the Board,” said McGillis, who is also hoping to see concerned resident Cliff Stienberg appointed.

McGillis said that he has attended webinars about the water levels and frequently communicates with an IJC representative about outflow levels.

“We are not getting a lot of answers apart from the fact the’yre trying to make things work…there is something wrong…it’s hard to balance for them, I think,” said McGillis.

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