One thing Superstorm Sandy and 2011’s two tropical storms, Irene and Lee, have shown is that, expensive though they may be, preventive measures will cost less than aiding victims and rebuilding infrastructure after the fact. That’s the thinking behind the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) plan to modify the movable dams at Lock 8 and others upstream to
prevent flooding, or at least make it less severe.
However, two Schenectady experts on the Mohawk River — one a geology professor at Union College; the other a retired architect, longtime Stockade resident and, thus, flooding veteran — are right. It’s not enough to make it easier to raise the dams’ gates, which got jammed with trees and debris during Irene and made the flooding much worse, when there are so many other contributing factors. The entire system — canal, river and tributaries — needs to be viewed as a whole.
If that were done, FEMA would also be looking at mitigation strategies for the fast-running Schoharie Creek, which caused so much damage in Schoharie County in 2011. And it would be looking at a problem the Stockade resident, Jim Duggan, has been talking about for years: Lock 7.
There are no gates at the dam there to regulate the flow — the water can only go over the top. And partly because of the dam’s width and the hydrology of the river just upstream, says Duggan, it does so relatively slowly — much slower than further upstream. That allows thick ice to build up near Lock 7 in winter and water to back up all the way to the Stockade, causing frequent, and sometimes major, flooding there. But ice isn’t required, as evidenced by the flooding of the Stockade and nearby low-lying areas during major rains in 2006 (the year of the Canajoharie floods) and again during Hurricane Irene.
Lest Duggan be dismissed as an amateur, his research and conclusions have now been supported by some knowledgeable professionals. They include John Garver, that Union prof, who has brought scientists together the last few years as part of the college’s Mohawk River symposium, to discuss the river system’s hydrology and flooding.
But Duggan and Garver haven’t gotten very far with the agencies that have regular jurisdiction over these waters: the state Canal Corp., Department of Environmental Conservation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That’s why FEMA’s interest in the dams upstream should be seen as an opportunity to look more closely at Lock 7 and find ways to manage the water there.
Yes, it could cost millions. But the state and federal governments are spending tens of billions in response to Hurricanes Irene and Sandy. Prevention is cheaper.