Boosters of a controversial plan to ease the regulation of Lake Ontario water levels are continuing their push to get the federal government to agree to the proposal. The outdoor sports community is lining up behind Plan 2014.
Plan 2014 eliminates a 50-year-old policy of regulating water levels of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Proponents want lake levels to go up and down naturally, which they say would bring back some of the wildlife damaged by the practice.
The Nature Conservancy is leading the effort to get government approval and has several outdoor sports organizations behind it, like Duck’s Unlimited. Representative Sarah Fleming says invasive cattail growth caused by regulating lake levels has destroyed some fish and game populations.
"From a hunting and angling perspective people are no longer visiting these locations because they are no longer getting the sports fish or waterfowl they once did,” Fleming said.
Les Monostory, of The Izaak Walton League, says this ultimately hurts a vibrant economy based on fishing.
"We're behind only Florida in annual expenditures, it’s like a $2 billion industry," Monostory said. "If we can improve fisheries, we can help the economies of upstate communities.”
Onondaga County Federation of Sportsmen President David Simmons says, ultimately, it creates a healthier ecosystem.
“This new improved plan will increase the biodiversity of the area, which will in turn lead to a restoration of some of the species in decline," Simmons explained. "Like the northern pike are unable to spawn because the cattail mats are so thick they can’t get to the streams where they need to spawn.”
And Tom Riley of the Onondaga Audubon Society compares it to some landmark environmental decisions of the past.
"It’s a courageous idea, comparable to enacting the Endangered Species Act and creation of the Adirondack Park,” Riley said.
There’s no timetable for approval from the Canadian and U.S. governments, but David Klein of The Nature Conservancy says it shouldn’t be put off.
“We don’t want this to be put on the shelf and fall out of sight," Klein said. "There’s real urgency here. This lake has been laboring under a very restrictive regulation plan for almost 60 years now and the time has come to change it.”
Opposition to the plan comes mainly from homeowners along the lake's shoreline, who worry changes in water levels will damage their property.