GUEST COLUMN: Henri escape a reminder to address flooding


By Russ Wege
For The Daily Gazette

The Capital District area was fortunate, as we did not receive the rainfall forecast by the National Weather Service from Tropical Storm Henri over the weekend.

Emergency managers and people living in the flood prone areas of Schenectady and Scotia can relax — for the time being.

The New York State Power Authority, Canal Division, properly preempted the Henri event forecast by draining several reservoir pools beginning with Lock 8 westward from the Schenectady/Scotia area.

This action would have reduced the flood crest by allowing the river to flow in its natural channel.

That did not happen during the Irene event 10 years ago when these canal structures caused additional flooding.

It is unfortunate that the state did not construct gates in the Vischer Ferry Dam that forms Lock 7 and creates the 10.3-mile pool involving Schenectady and Scotia.

The Vischer Ferry Dam, completed in 1914, changed river hydraulics and increased flooding in the Schenectady/Scotia area.

Acknowledgment that the dam created flooding problem dates back to the 1920s.

The problem was ignored for many years.

The Army Corps of Engineers looked at the problem in the 1960’s and identified a limited solution by designing a levee system that would protect the Stockade area, only to have the project rejected by the city for environmental reasons in 1975.

Mr. Jim Duggan and I have lobbied first the Thruway Authority (which administered the Canal Corporation) and the Power Authority to seriously address the flooding impact from the Vischer Ferry Dam for many years.

Our efforts range from being ignored to have been listened to then ignored.

Preliminary studies suggest that the dam has only a minor effect on flood elevations in the Schenectady/Scotia area.

These studies assume that the Dam remains unchanged.

No study has been made assuming gates were installed in the dam allowing the pool to be drawn down prior to a forecast flooding event.

A gated system in the 2,000-foot spillway would partly restore original river hydraulics and therefore, more efficiently pass flood flows, significantly reducing flood elevations in the Schenectady/Scotia area.

Perhaps the last hope to address this problem is through the relicensing studies for the hydro plant in the Vischer Ferry Dam.

Ice jam issues will be investigated in these studies. I do not know if my suggested study will be included in the final report.

In addition, I am convinced that if the pool can be drawn down during the winter months,.

For every foot of pool drawdown is a one-foot reduction in ice jam flooding in the Schenectady/Scotia area.

Modifying this 100-year dam is expensive.

But raising the neighborhood of the Stockade area is also expensive and will have a negative environmental impact on the historic district of the city.

Russ Wege of Glenville is a retired engineer.

Categories: Guest Column, Opinion

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