Schenectady residents should be upset at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s decision to limit its post-flood canal mitigation project to the movable dams upstream. Certainly, changes are needed to protect those dams from future flood damage and to lessen the chances of flooding. But the same is true of at least one non-movable dam downstream, the one at Lock 7 in Vischer Ferry, and nothing is going to be done about that.
At least not by FEMA, which says it will take the concerns expressed by Schenectady residents about the connection between that dam and frequent flooding in the Stockade and pass them along to other agencies. In other words, pass the buck. Thanks a lot.
The concerns appear to be well-founded. The construction of the dam in the early 1900s significantly raised the water level upstream. That might not be a problem if the dam had gates or other movable parts so more water could pass through when water levels rose enough, during heavy rains or snow melts, to threaten flooding upstream.
But it is a fixed, concrete dam; water can only go over the top. And at 1,900 feet across, an especially wide one. Engineers at the time thought this would allow more water to go over the dam, but instead it appears to have complicated the problem by reducing the flow. The result is that shortly after the dam was built, floods in the Stockade and Scotia became more frequent and serious.
Action should have been taken long ago to fix this dangerous situation. But it’s even more important now that the weather, with climate change, is getting crazier and storms more severe. After Hurricane Irene we saw not only the Stockade under many feet of water, but also Jumpin’ Jacks, Schenectady County Community College’s parking lot and the old Alco site that is due to be redeveloped. Flooding isn’t just a question of the community’s physical health, but its economic health as well.
The dam at Vischer Ferry is part of the canal system, just like the ones upstream. Those dams and their gates, including at Lock 8, were damaged by Hurricane Irene, but the one at Vischer Ferry came perilously close to failing (water started seeping through an small earthen embankment, causing officials to evacuate downstream residents). Now FEMA will pay $32 million to fix those other dams and mitigate flood damage, but nothing for the Vischer Ferry dam.
That’s shortsighted because prevention is cheaper than disaster cleanup and aid, which between Hurricanes Irene and Sandy is costing the state and federal governments tens of billions. If the feds aren’t interested in fixing the dam at Lock 7, the state will have to.