GREAT SACANDAGA LAKE — The traditional start of the summer recreation season finds the Great Sacandaga Lake within six inches of its target water level, ready for as much fun as the pandemic allows.
The manmade lake controlled by the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District is sometimes brimming and sometimes slack, depending on rainfall trends. The erratic snow this past winter could have made for lower water this spring, but didn't.
“We’re good, the Great Sacandaga Lake is about a half a foot above the target elevation for this time of year,” HRBRRD Executive Director John Callaghan said Friday.
A wetter-than-normal autumn canceled out the drier-than-normal winter, he explained.
“We went into winter drawdown at much higher-than-normal levels. We were fortunate to have some recent drier-than-normal weather.”
As a result, the lake surface was 766.75 feet Friday afternoon, 4 feet below the spillway of the dam holding it back and 6 feet below flood stage.
The Black River portion of the district is a different story. The Old Forge Reservoir is close to target elevation but Sixth Lake is 1 foot below and the Stillwater Reservoir is about 4 feet below.
“We did not have as much impact in the Black River basin in the fall from the same weather pattern as the Sacandaga River basin,” Callaghan said.
He noted the rainstorms that left the Great Sacandaga Lake so full in October 2019 resulted in greater water flow in the upper Sacandaga River than the Great Flood of 1913, which inundated downstream communities and led directly to the state’s decision to create the lake by building the Conklingville Dam. March 27 was the 90th anniversary of completion of that dam.
Varying snowfall across the Adirondack region resulted in varying amounts of snowmelt pouring into streams, lakes and reservoirs this spring, according to Kevin Lipton, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Albany. Some parts of the Adirondacks even had an above-average snowpack this past winter. Not so the Catskills, he said — the snowpack was uniformly below average there
The New York City Department of Environmental Protection closely monitors the Catskill snowpack each winter to determine the outlook for its network of reservoirs there. Not only are there gauges providing live data, personnel venture out twice a season to manually measure the water content of the snow, spokesman Adam Bosch said.
“By the end of February there was no snowpack left in the mountains,” he said.
It will usually last well into March, or even April during a long winter, he said.
But April rain erased the deficit.
“We didn’t get it as melt, we got it as rain,” Bosch said.
The six large Catskills-region reservoirs stood at 98.7 percent of capacity on Friday, a bit shy of the average 100.4 percent for May 22.
“The goal of this system is to be 100 percent full by June 1,” Bosch said. “June 1 is typically the time of the year when demand for water begins to outpace inflow.”
The fullest of the six reservoirs is also the smallest: the Schoharie Reservoir, which was at 100.9 percent of capacity Friday.
“Schoharie Reservoir is unique,” Bosch said, “one-seventh the size of Ashokan but a larger watershed. It fills quickly and it remains full more often. When [the weather] gets dry it drains more quickly.”
The agency delayed recreational boater access to the Schoharie Reservoir and three others this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic but is planning to gradually start reopening them next week.