Floods and Fact-Finding for the Champlain and Souris Basins

IJC staff
July 29, 2013

One part of the IJC’s mission is to keep tabs on what’s happening in transboundary watersheds, and to alert and advise governments as necessary. That includes recommending further examination of ways to prevent future flooding.  The latest examples are in the Lake Champlain and Souris River basins.

This month, IJC commissioners sent a letter to leaders of the two governments, recommending a Plan of Study for the Lake Champlain and Richelieu River. This plan, estimated to cost $14 million over five years, would examine the causes and impacts of spring 2011 flooding on the lake and river, and develop possible mitigation measures.

As part of this, a binational Study Board would be established to coordinate the work, and consult with the public and local governments along the way.

In the meantime, the Champlain-Richelieu recommendations from IJC urge local governments in New York, Vermont and Quebec to discourage development in flood-prone areas, and continue to coordinate preparedness, forecasting and response measures.

 Flood damage around Lake Champlain in 2011. Credit: Vermont gov.Flood damage around Lake Champlain in 2011. Credit: Vermont.gov.

The $14 million would be spent for the necessary data gathering and analysis to develop a full set of integrated, state-of-the-art physical, socio-economic, and ecological resource response models for the Champlain-Richelieu basin.

In the end, the goal is to gain a better understanding of the positive and negative impacts of potential structural and non-structural flood mitigation measures on the basin’s resources, environment, and multiple water users.

Is $14 million a lot of money? Yes. But the 2011 floods caused damage to about 4,000 homes in Canada and the U.S., and the loss was exponential (in the tens of millions of dollars). The 2011 losses were due to a combination of record spring precipitation and snowmelt from the third highest cumulative snowfall year on record, as spelled out in a final Plan of Study from the International Lake Champlain-Richelieu River Plan of Study Workgroup. 

The Champlain-Richelieu basin.
The Lake Champlain basin.

Lake Champlain and Richelieu River Lake Champlain and Richelieu River

Flooding is nothing new for Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River. The system has been plagued by flood events for the last century.

The workgroup that recommended this Plan of Study was established in 2012, at the request of Canadian and U.S. leaders.  The recommendation was crafted after meetings and written comments from municipal officials and stakeholders.

One of the Commission’s guiding principles is to employ joint fact-finding as a foundation for building consensus and determining appropriate action. We’re hoping for swift action from the Canadian and U.S. governments on this Plan of Study, and another similar action for the Souris River basin, recommended in a letter to governments sent last month.

IJC staff