USACE Buffalo District prepares for high water on lakes Erie, Ontario

Published April 14, 2020
Typical view of the existing seawall that protects Old Fort Niagara, Youngstown, NY, June 4, 2013.

Typical view of the existing seawall that protects Old Fort Niagara, Youngstown, NY, June 4, 2013.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo District is preparing to respond to lakes Erie and Ontario high water within the limits of its Regulatory, Emergency Management, Program and Project Management, and Operations and Maintenance programs.

Lake Erie water level set a record for this time of year, where Lake Ontario remains above average but below record high levels.  USACE Detroit District provides forecasts for water levels for all of the Great Lakes:


The Buffalo District regulatory section is closely coordinating with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation regarding their Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative (REDI).  The Buffalo Regulatory office continues to conduct pre-applications meetings and review applications for projects under the REDI program and staff remain ready to process applications in a timely manner when received. 

Members of the public with properties along lakes Erie and Ontario should contact the Corps of Engineer’s Regulatory Branch to ensure proper permits are obtained for any existing or planned shoreline alterations. A Section 10 Rivers and Harbors Act permit and/or Section 404 Clean Water Act permit are required for any work in, over, and/or under a navigable water.

In some cases, work may qualify for New York State Department of Environmental Conservation General Permit (GP-0-19-003) for Lake Ontario Erosion Control which covers the Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River Shoreline areas.    

Most projects that qualify for the General Permit will also qualify for the USACE Nationwide Permit (NWP) No. 3, 13, and/or 19.  Exceptions to this can be found at Note: where these exceptions apply a federal permit from the Corps of Engineers may be required even if state authorization has already been granted.

Regulatory Contact: 716-879-4330, or at:

Emergency Management:

Buffalo District stands ready to use its authority under Public Law 84-99 to supplement local and state efforts during and following flood conditions along lakes Erie and Ontario.

Technical assistance consists of providing review and recommendations in support of state and local efforts, and helping determine feasible solutions to uncommon situations. The following are examples of technical assistance:

  1. Providing experienced personnel to give guidance on flood fight techniques and emergency construction methods.
  2. Providing personnel to inspect existing flood protection projects and/or structurally threatened dams to identify problem areas and recommend corrective measures.
  3. Providing hydraulic analysis, geotechnical evaluations, topography and stream data, maps, and historic flood or storm information.

The Corps of Engineers cannot offer direct assistance to individual businesses and homeowners. Businesses and homeowners should be working with their local emergency managers for assistance.  The Corps of Engineers can only engage when an official request for assistance has come from the state or a locality.

Operations and Maintenance:

The Buffalo District maintains federal navigation channels and harbor structures for 16 commercial and 20 recreational harbors across lakes Erie and Ontario.  Contractors are preparing to start dredging operations and repairing breakwaters in the coming months.  Given the high water on the two lakes there is the potential that some of the structures that are usually above water could be submerged.  It is recommend that commercial and recreational boaters use caution when navigating around these structures, and that the public pay attention to the warning signs that have recently been posted. 

“The structures are designed to provide safe navigation in the harbor, and are not intended or maintained for public recreational access,” said Josh Feldmann, the chief of Operations for the Buffalo District. “Safety remains a top priority for the USACE and Buffalo District, which is why we’ve posted signs alerting the public to dangerous conditions and directing people to stay off. A person could potentially be exposed to high waves, treacherous and uneven surfaces, and have no safe way to get out of the water should one fall in."

More information:

Programs and Project Management:

Under the Corps of Engineers Continuing Authorities Program (CAP), many project have started or have been recently completed to develop a more resilient coastline on lakes Erie and Ontario. The Athol Springs project along Route 5 in Buffalo, NY, and the Old Fort Niagara project in Porter, NY, and the Lake County Raw Water Pump Station Protection Project in Lake County, OH are just three examples of projects where Buffalo District is protecting vital infrastructure and engineering resiliency. 

Additional information on the Corps of Engineers’ CAP authority can be found here:  

“We are watching the water levels across the Great Lakes and positioning ourselves the best we can to assist the residents and states, while our team continues to deliver coastal protection projects, sound engineering solutions, and maintains harbor navigation that directly contributes to the Nation’s economy,” said LTC Jason Toth.  “Everyone involved in the high water events of 2017 and 2019 are applying lessons learned to lessen the impact high waters will have on communities in 2020.  We are here to help and will continue to communicate our capabilities to the local and state officials.”


Athol Springs:

Lake County:

Old Fort Niagara:

Andrew Kornacki
716-352-8669 (cell)
1776 Niagara Street

Release no. 20-008