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St. Lawrence River Endangered

U.S. and Canadian governments poised to remove St Lawrence River from list of endangered rivers with a simple the stroke of a pen.

On April 12th the national advocacy organization, American Rivers, named the St. Lawrence River one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®, shining a national spotlight on the threat outdated dam operations pose to imperiled fish, wildlife and local communities.

The designation is significant for everyone who cares about the environment and the Thousand Islands.

American Rivers focuses only on rivers, at crossroads. Rivers where key decisions in the coming months will determine the fate of the waterbody.  Over the years, the annual report has helped spur many successes, including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers, with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.

The St. Lawrence River made this list once before, in 2008. This was the same year the International Joint Commission began reviewing Plan B+, an innovative water levels plan, designed to adjust the Moses-Saunders Hydropower Dam’s operations, so as to work with nature.

Eight years later, the plan, now known as Plan 2014, is ready for enactment. The U.S. and Canadian governments are poised to remove the St. Lawrence River from the Most Endangered Rivers list, with the simple the stroke of a pen.

As Rupak Thapaliya, Associate Director at American Rivers, said in the organization’s announcement; “This is the year to jumpstart the restoration of this river that is a vital lifeline for our economy, environment and communities.”

Published on Apr 8, 2016

American Rivers named New York’s St. Lawrence River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2016, shining an international spotlight on the threat outdated dam operations pose to imperiled fish and wildlife and local communities…

My organization, Save The River, couldn’t agree more.

Environmental considerations were not part of the planning process, when the Moses-Saunders Hydropower Dam, and shipping channel,were built in the 1950s. As a result, outdated dam operations have caused significant losses to the Upper St. Lawrence River’s globally-significant biodiversity and habitat. Impacts include a loss of wetland habitat and a decline in many fish species and nesting water birds. Black Tern, a state-listed endangered bird species that depends on a diverse marsh habitat, has declined by over 80 percent. Northern Pike, the top fish predator in coastal marshes, has declined by 70 percent. These species are indicators of ecosystem health, and show how far-reaching the dam’s impacts have been to the entire River environment.

It is time Secretary John Kerry and Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion listen to the over 22,500 expressions of citizen support as well as the 42 environmental, conservation and sportsmen organizations and local and regional businesses that continue to advocate for Plan 2014.

Today, they have the opportunity to immediately remove this shared waterway from the list of endangered rivers.

Save The River, and American Rivers, are calling on the two nations to approve Plan 2014. This scientifically-sound approach was developed by the International Joint Commission, with the input of more than 180 stakeholder representatives, experts and scientists, from government agencies, academia, NGO’s and industry, in New York, Ontario and Quebec. Plan 2014 places the environment at the center of decisions about water level regulations on the St. Lawrence River. If implemented, the plan will jumpstart one of the largest wetland restoration efforts in North America.

I hope you will join us in this call.

To help, please visit

Video Link:

Plan 2014 Link:

American Rivers Link:

Save the River Blog:

Save the River:  As the region's only environmental watchdog group, Save The River takes an active role in River policy issues. Over the years, Save The River has fought to stop winter navigation, expansion of the St. Lawrence Seaway infrastructure, pressed for better spill response planning, sought public accounting of shipping accidents and campaigned for better water levels management.

In 2004, Save The River was designated the Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper and is a member of the international Waterkeeper Alliance.

By Lee Willbanks, Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper and Executive Director of Save The River

With a Law Degree and Masters of Public Administration, from Syracuse University, Lee Willbanks, leads Save The River, the leading grassroots advocacy organization, working to protect the St. Lawrence River. Prior to joining Save The River, Lee served as chief of staff to a New York State Senator, whose district included the St. Lawrence River. His career has been diverse, ranging from environmental counsel, to an independent power producer, to Cornell Cooperation Extension, where he worked in youth development.

Please feel free to leave comments about this article using the form below. Comments are moderated and we do not accept comments that contain links. As per our privacy policy, your email address will not be shared and is inaccessible even to us. For general comments, please email the editor.


George Textor
Comment by: George Textor
Left at: 4:48 PM Friday, April 15, 2016
Where is Governor Cuomo on his support for 2014? He seems to have a pocket veto.
Cenie cafarelli
Comment by: Cenie cafarelli
Left at: 10:02 PM Friday, April 15, 2016
I strongly support plan 2014 for the st Lawrence river and Lake Ontario
Al Hewitt
Comment by: Al Hewitt
Left at: 10:02 AM Saturday, April 16, 2016
Restoring water levels does little or nothing to address the greatest threat to the St. Lawrence River which is the continuing concentration of toxic chemicals over time which continues to stress aquatic species and diminish fish populations . Save the River has willfully ignored and continues to ignore this most critical issue - not even mentioning toxic chemical pollution as an issue on their website. You can not safely eat the fish from the St. Lawrence due to the presence of these toxins in the fish. Plan 2014 will create more wetland area but will flood these areas with hundreds of toxic chemicals that will significantly reduce productivity . Save the River can help but refuses to address this most critical issue - toxic chemical pollution. Save the River needs to begin to prioritize issues based on science and facts rather than selectively choosing issues of far lesser importance- issues that are politically safe and convenient.
Al Hewitt
Comment by: Al Hewitt
Left at: 10:12 AM Saturday, April 16, 2016
Plan 2014
Al Hewitt
Comment by: Al Hewitt
Left at: 12:01 PM Sunday, April 17, 2016
You can see the work of Environmental Advocates of New York on the internet that address issues important to the well being of the River that are not being addressed by Save the River ( STR) including the 2700 sewage overflows in New York State over the past 2 years ; the majority occurring in Erie County that affect the St. Lawrence as these raw sewage overflows eventually flow into the River. STR expressed outrage regarding dumping by Montreal while ignoring the present and ongoing sewage overflow crisis that affects the River right here in New York State.STR monitors for pathogens from sewage but fail to do anything about it. STR also has demonstrated empathy for the PFOA contamination in Hoosick Falls while ignoring the present rule making process being undertaken by DEC and EPA to address the disposal of toxic chemical fracking wastes that would further contaminate the River. Both DEC and EPA have requested comments from stakeholders and environmental organizations that deal with involved water bodies. Where is the St. Lawrence Riverkeeper? Hopefully for the sake of all aquatic life in the St. Lawrence River ecosystem including residents of the River that drink the water, STR will step up by embracing intelligent priorities which must include substantive attention to the two most significant threats to the River at the present time- continuing concentration of toxic chemical pollution and out of control raw sewage overflows. While water level stabilization is also important , it can be easily fixed by " a flip of a switch" so to speak. Water level stabilization does nothing as far as water quality goes. If you want fish populations back you first have to do something about toxic chemical pollution and raw sewage overflows that are poisoning them.
George Textor
Comment by: George Textor
Left at: 4:34 PM Sunday, April 17, 2016
AL Hewett, You seem knowledgeable. What is the sewage overflo situation of the cities and towns along the upper St. L? I understand Clayton recently improved their sewage treatment? What is the source of most of the chemicals you mentioned? How big a problem is runoff from dairy operations? These are local issues that certainly need more attention.
Susie Smith
Comment by: Susie Smith
Left at: 9:45 AM Monday, April 18, 2016
Mr. Hewitt, I am the editor of TI Life (, over the past few days, I have been publishing your comments, submitted to our "St. Lawerence River Endangered," written by Lee them,it and in addition, any further ones.

We do appreciate your taking the time to comment on our articles, and we appreciate the feedback, but we are not an open forum for debate.

Sincerely, Susan W. Smith, Editor. TI Life.
Tom Plantz
Comment by: Tom Plantz
Left at: 9:02 PM Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Why single out Al Hewitt with "we are not an open forum for debate"? Is it because he is the only person who commented, that didn't fully support 2014? 2014 will have severe adverse consequences for many areas and communities, particularly on the South shore of Lake Ontario. The group that put together 2014 had one object in mind, put together a plan that will not be able to be implemented due to the negative impact on many communities and property owners, that way there is job security for continuing the development of future plans. All they had to do is modify the plan to limit the highest levels to prevent flooding and erosion on the Southern shore and maintain levels higher until the end of boating season (past Labor Day) and nobody would oppose it. Many people don't understand that 2014 not only means higher highs but also lower lows and many years the boating season will be over before Labor Day, if 2014 as currently written is implemented.
Susie Smith
Comment by: Susie Smith
Left at: 9:20 PM Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Mr. Plantz, I closed Mr. Hewitt's comments as he sent several, each one addressing a bias against the organization, that I did not consider on topic.
Susie Smith
Comment by: Susie Smith
Left at: 3:20 PM Thursday, April 21, 2016
Mr. Plantz, I checked with STR and... here is their response below. There have been many - past and present - who are passionate about the River and the Region and there will be many more to follow. I thank you for your concerns and I thank Save the River too.

It is important to note that Plan 2014 will allow a slightly expanded range of fluctuation in water levels, resulting in significant improvements in wetland biodiversity and ecosystem health. “The biological effects of water level fluctuations are greatest in shallow water, where even small changes in water levels can result in conversion of a standing water environment to an environment in which sediments are exposed to the air, or vice versa. The localized effects of this change in the environment are evident in the relatively immobile plant communities that occur in wetlands. In fact, the patterns of water level change are the driving force that determines the overall diversity and condition of wetland plant communities and the habitats they provide for a multitude of invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, fish, birds and mammals. There are more than 80 species of plants and animals in the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence coastal zone that are sensitive to water level fluctuations and that are being tracked as species of concern by the Natural Heritage Program in New York and the Natural Heritage Information Centre in Ontario. Of these species, 30 are officially designated by state, provincial or federal authorities as threatened or endangered.” (LOSLR Plan 2014, pages 42-43)

It is important to note that Plan 2014 does not return Lake Ontario or the St. Lawrence River to an unregulated state. The levels of both will remain constrained. The infrequent maximum under Plan 2014 is less than the height of a tennis ball (about 2.4”), while the unregulated Lake and River were frequently more than 2 feet higher before the River was dammed. "Low lows", necessary to wetland restoration, will only occur when supplies to the River are low and are likely once every 10 to 11 years.

Finally, just to be clear – Save The River’s mission is to preserve and protect the St. Lawrence River. We fight for the health of the River using science. And, after 15 years of study we know Plan 2014 is based on solid science. Fortunately, others do as well. We have been joined in the effort to bring a modern water levels plan to the St. Lawrence by over 40 local, regional and national conservation organizations in the U.S. and Canada, local governments the length of the River on both shores, and more than 22,500 citizens of both countries who recognize the health of the River is the sum of the health of each species in the entire ecosystem.

George Textor
Comment by: George Textor
Left at: 3:39 PM Thursday, April 21, 2016
Unfortunately, politics trump's good science. Our good NYState Governor is astute enough to see he is in a lose, lose situation with one parochial group of voters or another. Like most of his class he would rather ask for further study rather than lead.
George Textor

Donna McIntosh
Comment by: Donna McIntosh
Left at: 3:22 PM Thursday, October 20, 2016
TI Life- If you have a section for comments but then don't like the comments that are opposed to the author, then don't have a comments section at all. Seems the comment section is to support an author not to challenge them. Shame on you. There is a lot STR does well but some it does not and there are posed threats that are simply ignored, perhaps for financial, political or self serving reasons.