District reacts to high water

Just hours after saying that water releases probably wouldn’t resume for a week, the regulating dist

Just hours after saying that water releases probably wouldn’t resume for a week, the regulating district opened one of the giant Dow valves on the Conklingville Dam on Thursday to create more storage space.

According to the flow gauge at Fort Edward, the Hudson River was slightly above flood stage by mid-afternoon Thursday.

Chief Engineer Rob Foltan said the district opened the valve overnight.

Thursday morning the Hudson River Black River Regulating District’s Web site was indicating that the release was scheduled to begin Saturday.

Foltan said conditions can change dramatically from one moment to the next.

“The objective is to bring it up to but hopefully not exceed flood stage at Fort Edward,” he said.

“There will be some fluctuation” and the Dow valve will be shut down as the Hudson rises above flood stage, he said.

The district operates the Great Sacandaga Lake as a flood-control reservoir and to augment the flow of the river in the drier months. This year the lake is full early — it’s at about 768 feet above mean sea level — about a month before it’s supposed to be.

While the lake is considered full at 768, the spillway elevation is 771 feet. Over that, water flows into the Upper Hudson River uncontrolled.

District Executive Director Glenn LaFave said National Weather Service flow projections for the Sacandaga River at Hope, upstream of the dam, and at Hadley, where the dam is located, as well as rainfall forecasts prompted the move.

He said the forecasts, if correct, could result in water flowing over the spillway in excess of 773 feet through Thursday, without any action on the district’s part.

The flows in the Upper Hudson are now higher than prescribed by the offer of settlement that provides for lake regulation. But there is a clause that allows the district to exceed those limits in some cases.

While the district contends it’s operating the lake according to that offer of settlement, several lake advocates said Thursday district managers aren’t doing as much as they could.

Bob Monacchio, chairman of the Great Sacandaga Lake Advisory Committee, said the district has put residents in jeopardy.

“If you look at the size of the storm in the middle of the country, there could be a disaster here. There is no accountability, and there is no restitution. Even the state government doesn’t hold these people accountable. To me, this is very dangerous. This can affect a lot of people below the dam,” Monacchio said.

He said regulators should have brought the lake down in January.

“With the snowfall and rainfall we had, you would think they would bring the lake down in January. In February they realized they might have a problem” and increased releases, he said.

Randy Gardinier, chairman of the Great Sacandaga Lake Fisheries Federation, said his organization would prefer more water be released through the hydroelectric turbines, which have protection for fish. The Dow valves do not. Gardinier said he recalled a study years ago that said an estimated 125,000 to 200,000 fish per year were sucked into the turbines before the fish protection was increased.

“Obviously, some fish are going to be taken out of the lake with the Dow valve like they were with the turbines,” Gardinier said.

At least the federation has yet to stock the lake for the season, he said.

“You really would like to see them put fish protection on the valves like they did with the turbines,” he said. The district could also put fish protection behind the dam, he said.

“Since the regulating district is so unpredictable, the first stockings will be as far away from the dam as possible,” Gardinier said.

On Wednesday, spokesmen for the Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Great Sacandaga Lake Association said both organizations had committees to study the lake-regulation issue.

Chamber President Wally Hart said one option is to hire an engineer to examine whether the district is operating within the offer of settlement.

On Thursday, Peter VanAvery of the Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee said that’s the wrong approach.

“I believe that’s a waste of time. What we should be doing — and what I’ve been advocating at board meetings and letters to the editor since about 2004 — is [amending the agreement] to allow the chief engineer to release extra water when the lake’s level is excessively high above target for extended periods of time,” he said.

“The sooner the lake’s stakeholders focus on pressuring the regulating district to initiate the amendment process, the sooner we’ll see some improvement. This is a time for action, not meetings,” VanAvery said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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