A delicate balance

If you spent a good part of June helplessly watching the rising lake flood your property, swamp your dock, or erode your shoreline, then chances are the International Joint Commission and its rule curves (last updated in 1999) were a convenient scapegoat.
And much of that pent-up anger was unleashed last night—particularly by residents on the Minnesota side of the lake—as the International Rainy Lake Board of Control and the Rainy River Water Pollution Board hosted a joint open house and public meeting at La Place Rendez-Vous here.
Some of their anger was justified. The new rule curves did contribute, in part, to the flooding, and the IJC did admit it should solicit more local input so it can take more informed actions when circumstances warrant. There’s also some merit to the argument that the current 15-year period between reviewing the rule curves is too long.
But other factors must be considered, too, beginning with the fact Mother Nature had inundated the area with 150 mm-plus (six inches) of rain over a two-day period. No one can predict that—and no one can do much to prevent it.
Secondly, the IJC has to consider what effects its actions to alleviate one problem might cause other areas. It’s widely acknowledged that the measured approach to opening the gates at the dam here prevented much worse flooding downstream in communities like Rainy River.
And third, environmental concerns like fish spawning habitat, coupled with the power needs of the Abitibi-Consolidated and Boise Cascade mills, also are important mitigating factors in determining where to set the maximum and minimum rule curves.
With all these competing interests, the IJC is left with a delicate balancing act that can easily be toppled when the unusual or unexpected happens—namely six inches of rain in a short period of time.