Raising water outflow levels on Seaway above 10,400 CMS could cost bi-national economy over $1 billion

June 26, 2019 – The Chamber of Marine Commerce supports the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board’s decision Friday to continue flow rates from the Moses-Saunders dam at 10,400 cubic metres per second (CMS).

Chamber of Marine Commerce President Bruce Burrows said: “We are sensitive to the flood damage being done to homeowners. Given the plight of riparians, sustaining flow rates at these very high 10,400 CMS rates is the best compromise solution to deliver relief for Lake Ontario residents while maintaining safe, commercial navigation and supply to North American consumers. The St. Lawrence Seaway is a vital trade artery for both raw materials and global exports for North American industries, including grain, manufacturing, steel, construction, mining and energy sectors.”

Maintaining the 10,400 CMS outflow still results in a significant cost to the economy, with an estimated (CDN) $3 million to $4 million in business revenues lost for every day it’s in place due to delays for all ship transits through the Seaway.

The Chamber’s ship operators are following all of the new speed restrictions and additional mitigation measures developed by the Seaway to ensure the highest safety standards to accommodate these outflows of water. The Chamber’s operations group has had positive feedback thus far from ship captains that current water conditions are safe.

Raising water flows beyond 10,400 CMS would have significantly more severe economic repercussions.  The River Board has circulated a number of scenarios to stakeholders for feedback which would result in stop and go scenarios or sustained closure of the St. Lawrence Seaway to navigation. Chamber analysis shows these would result in an estimated (CDN) $1 billion to $1.75 billion in business revenue losses to the Canadian and U.S. economies depending on the scenario.

“Raising water outflows further to unsafe levels would halt navigation on the St. Lawrence Seaway and disrupt the supply of vital materials and products to industries and towns.  This would cause significant harm to other parts of the economy and put jobs at risk,” said Burrows.

Lost time cannot be made up later in the season. There is a reduced amount of cargo that can be transported.

In the United States, stop-and-go scenarios or complete shutdown would, for example, disrupt grain exports from the Dakotas, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana; and Minnesota iron ore exports to Canada and overseas, as well as impacting Quebec aluminum imports to Oswego (New York) and Toledo for automotive and appliance manufacturing; raw material imports for steel production in Ohio and wind energy components for projects in Minnesota.

In Canada, halting navigation would severely impact Western Prairie and Ontario grain exports as well as the delivery of supplies to steel manufacturers across Ontario, gasoline and jet fuel supplies for the Greater Toronto area, and construction materials and road salt to cities in Ontario and Quebec to name just a few examples.

“Stop and go scenarios would also cause a cascade of traffic congestion in navigation channels, ports and significant safety challenges,” said Burrows.  “Water flows as much as 11,500 CMS have never been done before, and it is uncertain whether ships could even safely anchor at these levels.  Similarly, there is a risk that navigation buoys could drift out of position in those very high outflows, becoming unreliable or potentially obstruct the navigation channel. There has never been any study into the safety impacts of these kind of water flows on the system.”

Burrows added: “Going forward, a proper study into water levels and their causes should be done and a resiliency plan developed with all stakeholders.”

The Seaway is a crucial component of the integrated transportation system that moves goods throughout the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River region serving a population of over 150 million residents in Canada and the U.S.  The Seaway supports a more diversified international trading agenda, with traffic having grown 17% in the last two years. Port activity on the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway portion of the waterway generates (CDN) $45 billion in economic activity across the region and supports 238,000 jobs in Canada and the U.S.

NOTE TO EDITOR: Please view Backgrounder outlining the scenarios and estimated economic cost calculations and other implications.  

Photos can be downloaded at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/marinecommerce/albums/72157657049769546

 About the Chamber of Marine Commerce

The Chamber of Marine Commerce is a bi-national association that represents more than 130 marine industry stakeholdersincluding major Canadian and American shippers, ports, terminals and marine service providers, as well as domestic and international ship owners. The Chamber advocates for safe, sustainable, harmonized and competitive policy and regulation that recognizes the marine transportation system’s significant advantages in the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence, Coastal and Arctic regions.

Media Contact:

Julia Fields

Chamber of Marine Commerce

(613) 294-8515