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Schenectady County gets grant for better flood forecasts

Schenectady County gets grant for better flood forecasts

County plans to coordinate information from USGS gauges in Mohawk watershed
Schenectady County gets grant for better flood forecasts
This photo of the Mohawk River facing east was taken on its banks in Schenectady's historic Stockade section.
Photographer: Erica Miller/Gazette Photographer

SCHENECTADY COUNTY -- The county will launch a $150,300 program to develop new computer programs to monitor the Mohawk River watershed in an effort to predict future flooding and measure the damage when there is flooding.

Developing prediction tools will be the focus of a required update to the county's Multi-Jurisdiction Hazard Mitigation Plan. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is providing $112,725 in funding, with the remaining $37,575 expected to be provided by the county in the form of county employees' time.

The study will focus on trying to better predict the behavior of the Mohawk, which causes flooding nearly annually, especially when there are ice jams or during spring runoff, in the riverfront parts of Schenectady's historic Stockade neighborhood. The river also floods during extreme weather events like tropical storms Irene and Lee in 2011 -- storms that caused extensive damage and brought the Mohawk to FEMA's attention.

The city of Schenectady is currently doing an in-depth study of how to mitigate flooding risks in the Stockade. Three public meetings took place this week at the First Reformed Church on North Church Street.

There's plenty of information about the river's volume and flows available; the county wants to figure out how to process the information in real time.

There are dozens of flood gauges maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey throughout the Mohawk's 3,460-square-mile watershed, which includes all or parts of Montgomery, Schoharie, Schenectady, Saratoga, Fulton, Hamilton, Albany, Greene, Herkimer, Oneida, Delaware, Otsego, Madison and Lewis counties.

The USGS system includes gauges on the Schoharie Creek, the Mohawk's largest tributary, which itself caused devastating flooding in the Schoharie Valley during the 2011 storms. The flow from the Schoharie then contributed to the downstream damage in the Stockade and in Rotterdam Junction.

The goal of the county project is to use real-time information from those gauges, and field observations submitted by laptop or tablet computers, to better predict when the river will exceed its banks and by how much.

"We are requesting funding to develop an electronic system that can collect and aggregate data from multiple systems in real time to assist in monitoring and decision-making," County Manager Kathleen Rooney wrote in a March 25 memo to legislators. "Currently there are a number of gauges along multiple watersheds feeding the Mohawk River including the Schoharie Creek that are monitored to predict potential flooding within Schenectady County."

The software would also include damage assessment programs that the county's Office of Emergency Management could use after flooding to create the kind of documentation FEMA needs for damage reimbursements.

The federal money will be used to hire outside computer experts to help develop the new monitoring system. FEMA rules will give the county about a year to compete the work.

The County Legislature's Public Safety and Firefighting Committee voted to accept the funding on Monday, sending the matter to the County Legislature for a final vote on Tuesday.

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

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