Johnstown seeking study of safety of its dams

The Johnstown Common Council on Monday approved the hiring of an engineering firm to study the sa


The Johnstown Common Council on Monday approved the hiring of an engineering firm to study the safety of the city’s seven dams, the first step in compliance with new Department of Environmental Conservation regulations coming into effect this year.

The council voted to accept the $43,000 proposal from Long Island-based Greenman-Pedersen.

City Engineer Chad Kortz said the city owns four “Class A” dams, two “Class B” dams and one “Class C” dam, all located west of the city in the towns of Johnstown and Caroga. He said Class A dams are considered minor dams without much potential for damage if they were to breach, while Class B dams are a little bigger and could cause more damage. Class C dams are considered “high hazard” because if they fail there is the potential to cause loss of life.

Johnstown’s Class C dam is located off of County Highway 116 and holds back 140 million gallons of water from the city’s watershed. Kortz said the other, smaller dams are located in wooded areas not accessible by car.

Kortz said his city received letters from the DEC earlier this year explaining what would need to be done to bring the city into compliance with the new regulations.

“Every dam owner in New York state has to do this,” he said. “[If the Class C dam was breached] it would flood downstream and potentially cause loss of life, wash roads out, flood homes. That kind of stuff.”

The new DEC regulations are in part a response to a dam failure at Hadlock Pond in West Fort Ann, Washington County, in 2005, which damaged commercial, agricultural and residential property in the area as well as the Northway near exits 23 and 25.

According to the DEC letter, copies of which are available on DEC’s website,, owners of Class C dams are required to complete annual certifications of the dam’s safety and submit them to the DEC by Jan. 31 and annually thereafter. The city is also required to develop an emergency action plan and submit it to the DEC by Aug. 19. Engineering studies of the Class C dams must be completed every 10 years; the first is due by Aug. 19, 2012.

Kortz said the deadlines for the Class B dams don’t start until 2011.

“There are going to be some ongoing costs, almost on an annual basis, because of these revised regulations. From here on out, the cost of this should be in smaller amounts, but I won’t know for sure until we’ve been through this,” he said. “These inspections could also trigger the need for some additional maintenance.”

Kortz said the emergency action plans he is required to put together for the DEC may also require that new land surveys be conducted. He said he won’t know for sure until Greenman-Pedersen completes its engineering study.

The cost of the studies and maintenance on the dams is paid for from the city’s dedicated water funds, which are from the rates charged for water service.

Johnstown Water Board Chairman Nicholas Cannizzo said the water board anticipates using about $1.5 million of the approximately $2 million it has in reserves to help build a water tank for the Maylender Reservoir. He said that will leave only about $500,000 to fix any problems that might be discovered by the engineering study.

“We aren’t anticipating raising the water rates this year. Down the road, after we start the 2011 budget, we may have to,” he said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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