Snow gauge to aid in flood control

A high-tech electronic snow-measuring scale being tested in the Catskills by New York City reservoir

A high-tech electronic snow-measuring scale being tested in the Catskills by New York City reservoir managers was greeted Monday as a step toward better flood control in the Schoharie Reservoir region.

Installation of the “snow pillow” device in the watershed upstream of the Neversink Reservoir in Sullivan County will allow managers to keep constant track of the amount of water content in the snowpack feeding the reservoir systems, said Paul Rush, deputy commissioner of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Water Supply.

Rush said another snow pillow is expected to be installed within two months in the Pepacton Reservoir watershed in the western Catskills near Margaretville.

The pilot program is expected to extend to the 316-square-mile Schoharie watershed next winter, Rush said.

“It’s a very positive step,” responded Middleburgh resident Howard Bartholomew, a spokesman for Gilboa Dam watchdog group Dam Concerned Citizens,

“It enables them to get an accurate measure of the water content of the snow, so they can drop the water in the reservoirs [to lessen the likelihood of flooding],” Bartholomew said.

“This cutting-edge technology will offer DEP the opportunity to verify the real-time data 24 hours a day and have an accurate measurement of the snowpack water,” Rush said.

The new device installed last week in the Neversink watershed incorporates a 9-foot-square aluminum platform with highly accurate scales that take measurements every 60 seconds. Information is then sent to the DEP control facility at Grahamsville every hour via radio, according to Rush.

The latest program is the second-generation of snow pillows that was tested in the Schoharie Reservoir watershed and other locations in the winter of 2005-2006. That used an inflatable measuring device that did not perform reliably.

Although the earlier device used an environmentally safe antifreeze liquid, Rush said, it ended up leaking and deflating the measuring pad.

Unlike the earlier system, the new snow pillow is solid and is not inflated, he said.

According to the DEP, it is the first agency in the country to use this state-of-the-art technology developed by Jerry Johnson, a contractor with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Alaska.

The device installed last week at Neversink was specifically manufactured for use by the DEP in its reservoir system.

Acquisition of the technology was made possible by a grant of $22,000 given by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

The Delaware River Basin Commission worked closely with DEP staff to secure the grant on DEP’s behalf and handled all administrative work associated with it, according to the DEP.

The Neversink Reservoir, one of the city’s 19 water supply reservoirs and three lakes in eight counties, spills into a branch of the Delaware River. Water from the Schoharie Reservoir is fed south into the Esopus Creek, a Hudson River tributary, and the Ashokan Reservoir, through an 18-mile tunnel to Ulster County. Spillover at the Gilboa Dam, and potential snow-melt floods, flow north to the Mohawk.

The Schoharie watershed primarily, in Greene County upstream from the six-mile-long reservoir, is being manually measured at least every two weeks at 11 locations at differing elevations in the mountains, Rush said.

On a related note, Schoharie County officials announced testing will resume at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday on the outdoor warning system at 20 locations downstream of the Gilboa Dam.

Categories: Schenectady County

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