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County putting more flood monitors along Mohawk

County putting more flood monitors along Mohawk

Cameras will monitor ice jams and water levels
County putting more flood monitors along Mohawk
The dam gates at Lock 9 in Rotterdam are shown raised to allow free flow of water on Oct. 29, 2017.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

SCHENECTADY COUNTY -- Schenectady County emergency officials will have additional information about any ice jams or high water along the Mohawk River this winter.

The County Legislature plans to use $75,260 in state homeland security grant money to install new cameras to watch the river at Erie Canal locks 7 and 9, and a new river-level gauge near Lock 9 in Rotterdam.

The Legislature's Public Safety and Firefighting Committee unanimously approved the plan on Monday. The full Legislature will vote on it Tuesday, Dec. 11.

Last winter, brutal early-season cold temperatures led to the formation of a 17-mile ice jam in the river from Lock 7 at Vischer Ferry to the west, past the city of Amsterdam. It was the largest Mohawk ice jam officials could recall. Its breakup in February led to low-level flooding in Schenectady's historic Stockade neighborhood, though there were fears at the time that the flooding would be worse.

Ice jams and high water levels due to spring runoff are perennial issues along the Mohawk, especially in low-lying areas like the Stockade and Freedom Park in Scotia. Cameras and additional gauges could give county officials more time to react to events or to issue warnings.

"These upgrades will allow the Schenectady County emergency management team to gather real-time data on the river height and flow," states a legislative justification memo. "These additional locations will help monitor the river during high water events and ice jams."

County Legislature Chairman Anthony Jasenski, D-Rotterdam, said the money will be used to purchase and install the cameras, as well as three years of monitoring and maintenance of them. A state homeland security grant will cover the entire cost.

The U.S. Geological Survey New York Water Science Center already maintains some cameras and gauges along the river in Schenectady County, but county officials said the winter of 2018 showed the need for more information. The new cameras and gauge will be installed by the USGS under a contract with the county.

“These enhancements will materially improve our ability to monitor river activity, particularly during winter ice jams such as we experienced earlier this year," said County Manager Kathleen Rooney.

Last winter's ice situation was serious enough to get the attention of state officials and spur plans for a $500,000 state Department of Environmental Conservation study of the entire Mohawk River watershed for ice jam potential and ways to address the dams.

The state Canal Corp., meanwhile, is preparing the local canal system for another winter.

Flashboards, which are used to raise water levels at the hydroelectric power plants at the Vischer Ferry and Crescent dams during warm-weather months, will be removed for the winter this weekend. The boards cause upstream water levels to rise, and their removal will increase downstream water levels temporarily, which could affect marinas, boats and docks, Canal Corp. officials said.

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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