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Warmup a threat to waterways

Warmup a threat to waterways

Contractors were pulling chunks of ice out of the Otsquago Creek south of Fort Plain on Thursday in
Warmup a threat to waterways
An ice jam on Otsquago Creek in the Herkimer County town of Starkville threatens Fort Plain downstream on Thursday, January 9, 2014.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson

Contractors were pulling chunks of ice out of the Otsquago Creek south of Fort Plain on Thursday in anticipation of warmer weather and rain expected this weekend.

Forecasters are predicting heavy rain Saturday coupled with temperatures above 45 degrees throughout the region.

Sub-zero temperatures left the region’s waterways coated with foot-thick ice in some places, a situation that presents the risk of flooding if the sheets of ice breaks into chunks and block the path of rain and quickly melting snow.

“We are concerned about it,” National Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Lipton said Thursday. “With the rain that we’re expecting this weekend, there is the potential for that ice to dislodge and potentially cause some jams in some places.”

On Thursday, forecasters were calling for 1 to 11⁄2 inches of rain to fall late Saturday and into Sunday.

Adding to the concern of jamming ice is the snow sitting on the ground. There’s between 3 and 6 inches of snow around Saratoga County and 4 to 7 inches in the Hudson Valley.

“There’s still quite a bit of snow north and west of Albany,” Lipton said.

Ice is accumulating on the Kayaderosseras Creek in Saratoga County, as well, according to county DPW Commissioner Keith R. Manz.

Emergency management officials are watching creeks in Schoharie County, and the state Department of Transportation sent an emergency contractor to a segment of the Otsquago Creek just south of Montgomery County to prevent damage if the ice breaks free quickly, DOT spokesman Jim Piccola said.

The Otsquago Creek drains north into the Mohawk River, directly through the village of Fort Plain, where Mayor Guy Barton said concerns are growing. By Thursday, the creek and its ice were at the level of the berms used to contain the water. Barton said he can only hope the ice will move on to the Mohawk River before plugging up the creek.

Though flash-flooding devastated the village early last summer — and ultimately proved deadly — flooding caused by ice jams is more common there.

The ice started building up last month before a thaw, and it eventually made its way into the Mohawk River, eliminating the threat for a while.

“My concern is if that ice does break loose up there and comes down and backs up,” said Barton, who recalls Montgomery County officials using dynamite to break up ice on the Mohawk decades ago.

If it doesn’t move, ice can accumulate and cause a blockage, forcing rainwater and melted snow and ice somewhere else. It’s impossible to know where it might happen, Barton said.

“Ice can jam anywhere, that’s the big problem. You can’t predict where the ice is going to jam,” Barton said.

According to Montgomery County’s hazard mitigation plan, Fort Plain sustained damage from flooding because of ice jamming in January 1952, February and March 1955, February 1957, February 1960, March 1963, January 1979 and March 1979.

The Schoharie County Emergency Management Agency is monitoring ice buildups on the Cobleskill and Fox creeks, county spokeswoman Sheryl Largeteau said. An ice jam on the Line Creek, dividing the towns of Middleburgh and Fulton, had cleared, she said.

Ice has been jamming up on the Schoharie Creek in Prattsville just south of Schoharie County, and it has caused the creek to rise about 10 feet higher than normal behind the ice, according to Gary Firda, a surface water specialist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s water science center in Troy.

Crews were being dispatched to the water level gauge in Prattsville on Thursday to work on the equipment because it froze up. There’s a gauge that measures the creek’s level using radar, but it doesn’t work well when temperatures fall below zero, Firda said.

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection, which owns the Gilboa Dam that contains the 17.5 billion-gallon Schoharie Reservoir, monitors the snow in the area that drains into the reservoir. DEP spokesman Adam Bosch said both siphons — devices that release water into the Schoharie Creek from the reservoir — were operating on the dam Thursday.

Bosch said there’s a smaller snow pack in the Schoharie Creek watershed than at this time last year. Were it to melt, it would equate to about 0.31 inches of water, compared with 2.2 inches measured at this time last year.

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