Massive snowfall in the Catskills is prompting owners of the Gilboa Dam to release millions of gallons of water from the Schoharie and other reservoirs to lessen the chance of flooding.
The amount of snow currently on the ground exceeds the level measured before massive flooding that devastated the Schoharie Valley in 1996, but one official and a meteorologist on Wednesday said other weather factors make a disaster unlikely.
As much as 4 feet of snow fell in some places in the Northeast last week, leaving about 175 billion gallons of water sitting on the ground in the form of snow in New York City’s watershed, part of which drains into the Schoharie Reservoir.
Throughout the system, the city’s watershed typically sees 60 billion gallons of snow-pack water this time of year, according to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.
The city’s DEP, which owns and maintains the Gilboa Dam that holds back the 20-billion gallon Schoharie Reservoir, announced Wednesday that siphons — installed on the dam after engineers said the 82-year-old relic was outdated — are spilling the equivalent of 200 million gallons of water daily.
The siphons help draw down the water level in Schoharie Reservoir so it can gather more draining snow and slow down the flow into the Schoharie Creek.
In 1996, the creek overflowed after a freak January warm-up accompanied by 4 inches of rain.
“We’re doing what we can to minimize effects that may or may not come from the fact that we have a large quantity of water in the snow pack,” DEP spokesman Michael Saucier said Wednesday.
Schoharie County Emergency Management Director Judy Warner said she keeps her eye on the equivalent of water in the snow based on inches, and the watershed in 1996 had about 5 inches of water in it.
On Wednesday, the water equivalent in the snow was at 6.4 inches, Warner said.
“My thoughts are things are looking bad but looking good,” Warner said.
The ground is not frozen, Warner said, so some of the melt will be absorbed.
And despite the snow melting during the daytime with temperatures of about 40 degrees, it gets cold again at night and slows down the melting.
Despite the slim chance of flooding, Warner said the specter of an emergency should prompt residents to consider and refresh their emergency plans.
“People still should make preparations and be prepared,” Warner said. She said people should have “go kits” available in the event they have to leave their homes in a hurry.
Other considerations include any necessary medications, what to do with pets and having flashlights, she said.
AccuWeather.com meteorologist Eric Wilhelm said the snow that’s fallen on the Northeast recently was the “heavy, wet stuff that holds a lot of water.”
“The good news is that we don’t have any rain coming any time real soon,” Wilhelm said.
The melting by day and freezing at night lets the water flow gradually instead of all at once, he said.
Wilhelm said temperatures are expected to be in the mid-30s today and about 40-degrees on Friday and into the weekend with temperatures at night dropping to as low as 20-degrees.
The city’s DEP is also taking other measures to help minimize the chance of flooding, including releasing more water from its other reservoirs further south.
Though there’s no rainstorm in the near forecast, the amount of snow sitting on the ground is disconcerting, said Howard Bartholomew, a director at Dam Concerned Citizens, a resident group that formed after engineers announced the Gilboa Dam doesn’t meet today’s design standards.
Bartholomew, who lives in Middleburgh near the Schoharie Creek, said there’s about 50 billion gallons of water in the snow that flows into the Schoharie Creek’s watershed — more than twice the capacity of the Schoharie Reservoir.
“Anything they can get out ahead of time over here helps,” Bartholomew said.
A quick melt and heavy rain could push Schoharie Creek water levels to flood stages and lead to ice-jam flooding that targets Schenectady’s historic stockade, Bartholomew said.
What’s disconcerting, he said, is the 20-percent chance of a freakish 4.5-inch rainstorm in the month of March or April, detailed in the DEP’s environmental assessment for the Gilboa Dam reconstruction project.
“So yeah, I am concerned,” Bartholomew said.
Categories: Schenectady County