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‘It’s actually terrifying’: Boaters stranded by high water levels on Lake Ontario

WATCH: High water levels have left docks completely submerged at Bluffers Park Marina, resulting in boaters being stuck on dry land for the season. Kamil Karamali reports

Ron Kirton hops off his boat onto what is usually a dry dock at Bluffers Park Yacht Club — but this year, the entire wooden structure has been submerged completely under water because of high water levels in Lake Ontario.

“It’s been a long frustrating year for a lot of people,” said Kirton, while ankle-deep in water with his pant legs rolled up. “Everyone pays a lot of money down here.”

“We launched in April and 90 per cent of the boats haven’t even been started.”

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Kirton said almost all of the club members at the marina haven’t taken their boats out onto the water the entire season — because the high water levels make it almost impossible to see the submerged fixed docks or the fingers, the smaller wooden platforms attached to the dock.

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“It’s actually terrifying,” said Kirton.

“The docks are virtually invisible,” said longtime Cathedral Bluffs Yacht Club member, Nick Sellars.

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“If you’re going and you bring your boat back in, you can’t see your dock because of the light reflecting off the water.”

Sellars adds that none of the boats have had any power for almost the entire season.

READ MORE: Part of Kingston Yacht Club flooded due to high water levels

“Power had to be shut off because our power cables run under the docks, so people walking down, slushing through the water could get electrocuted through the stray current,” added Sellars.

The marina has also been closed to visiting boats for the season because the docks are underwater.

“It’s a safety issue,” said Sellars.

“A visiting boat may be coming from someplace with floating docks so they don’t have the problem, and so they come into a slip and they get hurt and there’s a liability issue.”

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In 2017, water levels rose to unprecedented levels in what many yacht club members called a ‘once-in-a-lifetime event.’ But now, many of them are saying that these water levels surpass those from two years ago.

“Probably a couple of inches higher at its highest point, it starting to come down,” said Sellars.

Water levels have been on the rise, affecting shorelines around Lake Ontario throughout the year.

Earlier this year, Toronto Islands dealt with major flooding problems and part of the Kingston Yacht Club was also left partially underwater.

In early May, a flood warning was in effect for the shoreline of Lake Ontario, which saw water levels rise more than 40 centimetres above normal at Cobourg.

“There is no human reason or purpose behind raising water levels,” said Kevin Bunch, spokesperson for International Joint Commission.

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“Inflows into the Lake Ontario system have been extremely high this year, due to precipitation and snowmelt in the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence basin and high inflows of water coming in from Lake Erie and the upper lakes (which are all seeing very high water levels and are unregulated, save for the St. Marys River between Lake Superior and Lake Huron).”

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“This was coupled with an extremely heavy freshet on the Ottawa River and the lower St. Lawrence, which led to flooding in Montreal and restricted how much water we could let through the Moses-Saunders dam on the upper St. Lawrence,” added Bunch.

The International Joint Commission implemented a new flood plan nearly three years ago ‘to enhance wetland biodiversity.’

READ MORE: Belleville mayor blames IJC regulatory changes for Lake Ontario flooding

Regulation Plan 2014 includes steady water releases at the Moses-Saunders Power Dam on the St Lawrence River.

Many boaters have pointed the finger at the IJC for the rising water levels, but the government body has said the ‘plan is not a primary cause of the flooding this year.’

“Though long-term, Regulation Plan 2014’s intent is to increase the variability of water levels of Lake Ontario to enhance wetland biodiversity, during extreme conditions such as we’ve experienced the past several years, this intent is set aside and every attempt to reduce high levels is undertaken,” said Rob Caldwell with the International Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River Board.

Caldwell adds that Lake Ontario peaked in mid-June at 75.92 metres and has since declined to 75.75 metres.

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