Congressman Brian Higgins is writing to the United States Chair of the International Joint Commission (IJC) calling for an investigation into what led to an ice jam build up and flooding along the Niagara River during the blizzard which recently hit the Western New York area.  Higgins’ request is aimed at preventing potential tragedies in the future.

“The threat of flooding of neighborhoods on both sides of the river is of great concern,” wrote Higgins.  “Additionally, I am reluctant to contemplate the dire scenario which would ensue if hydroelectric generation were disrupted by an ice jam; if this disruption happened concurrently with a 10-year blizzard like the one which visited our region yesterday, the result may be nothing short of a major humanitarian disaster.”

An ice jam during a severe winter storm on January 7, 2014 led to a flash flood warning from the National Weather Service for the upper Niagara River, threatening neighborhoods in Grand Island and Niagara Falls.

In his letter, Higgins asks the IJC to specifically address the following questions:

  • Did the human-made infrastructure which regulates the river (including the ice boom and the control structures) perform as designed?
  • Is a reconfiguration of some of this infrastructure, or new infrastructure, warranted?
  • Are adequate procedures in place to manage the threat of an ice jam in this location?
  • Did the authorities involved discharge their responsibilities effectively?  The Congressman noted that he had no reason to suspect that there was a lapse in this regard.
  • Do NYPA and the Canadian authorities need more ice-breaking capacity, i.e., more and/or bigger ice-breaking vessels?

The International Joint Commission is a bi-national organization formed in the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty composed of six Commissioners including one Chair from each country.  The IJC’s two main responsibilities include “regulating shared water uses and investigating transboundary issues and recommending solutions.”