Rain, snowmelt fill up area rivers
Earthen dam break muddies water supply
CAPITAL REGION Days of heavy rain and late northern snowmelt sent the Hudson and Sacandaga rivers over major flood levels Thursday as they roared through small northern communities and south into the Capital Region. Smaller tributaries added their surge and residents along them watched cautiously.
The swamping rain filled all streams in the region, with the Mohawk River high but less problematic. No major damage and no injuries had been reported into Thursday evening.
In the town of Wilton, a century-old earthen dam near Route 9 broke early Wednesday and sent muddy water and other debris into Loughberry Lake, the main water supply of Saratoga Springs, according to city Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco.
“There was nev-
er any danger to the drinking water,” Scirocco said. “We were notified at about 6 a.m. on Wednesday that the dam had broken and washed into the lake.”
“The dam wasn’t regulated and it just couldn’t withstand the pressure from all the rain,” he said. “The turbidity has mostly settled out at this point and we’re just watching it now.”
The state Department of Health has been monitoring the situation, according to spokesman Jeffrey Hammond.
“DOH is aware of the dam failure on a tributary to Loughberry Lake,” he said Thursday. “The city has taken necessary steps to ensure the finished water quality is not compromised.”
The dam on the man-made Lewiston Pond near Maple Avenue School in Wilton was built in the 1880s, according to Wilton Building Inspector Mark Mykins; he said a new railroad track would have had to cross a stream if it hadn’t been dammed up.
“That pond really didn’t get much attention except for adjacent property owners taking a rowboat on it to clean debris,” he said. “That pond is gone now.”
The land the pond was on is now owned by National Grid and is part of a right of way for electrical poles, according to company spokesman Patrick Stella. “We will need to inspect the area,” he said. “We had structures, large poles, on either side of the pond and we need to see how the ground shift might have impacted them.”
The Mohawk River rose significantly but was still 5 feet below flood stage levels between Tribes Hill and Schenectady, said Joe Villani, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
“We have seen some rising in that stretch, but flooding has been confined to the Utica, Little Falls area,” Villani said.
The gauge in Schenectady’s Stockade measured 217 feet at 7:45 p.m. Thursday with a flood stage at 223 feet. In Tribes Hill, the gauge measured 275 feet with a flood stage of 281 feet, Villani said.
The rain and snowmelt led to near record-high water elevation for the Sacandaga Reservoir, also known as the Great Sacandaga Lake.
“We’re not at the record yet, but we will be,” said Mike Clark, the director of the Hudson River Black River Regulating District. “We’re storing an awful lot of water. It’s going to continue upward until we start releasing significant amounts of water. The only water going out at present is the water going over the spillway.”
At noon Thursday the Sacandaga Reservoir’s surface elevation was 773.16 feet above sea level. The all-time record is 773.54 feet. Regulating District officials, using river forecasts from the National Weather Service, are predicting the reservoir will crest at 774.4 feet Sunday morning, then begin to decline.
Clark said for the past several days water has been pouring into the reservoir from the Sacandaga River watershed at a rate of 127,168 gallons of water per second. The reservoir can contain a total of 230 billion gallons. The reservoir was built to hold water elevations up to 778 feet, which in theory would take the water up to the edge of the state’s property line around the lake.
The regulating district controls the water levels using valves at the Conklingville Dam. Clark said the reservoir is performing its function of storing water to prevent greater flooding south of the confluence of the Sacandaga and Hudson rivers. He said the Hudson River at North Creek, Hadley and Fort Edward was at or above flood stage Thursday afternoon.
But from the confluence at Hadley-Luzerne to points south — including Corinth, Mechanicville, Troy and Albany, things would be a lot worse if the dam were not holding back so much water.
“The Great Sacandaga is performing as it was intended. It is storing the water and mitigating the impact of flooding on the Hudson by holding back a large percentage of water that, without this reservoir, would have historically made its way directly into the Hudson and resulted in a much more severe flooding event, as happened in the centuries before,” he said.
The Sacandaga River was expected to reach a record height overnight, National Weather Service Meteorologist Kimberly McMahon said.
The river reached flood stage — listed at 7 feet at the Hope gauge in Hamilton County — shortly after 11 a.m. Thursday and is expected to progress through moderate and major flood stages overnight and today, she said. At 7 p.m. Thursday it was at 7.83 feet.
In Hadley, the Conklingville and Stewart’s dams control water levels in the Sacandaga Reservoir, but town Supervisor Arthur Wright said he’d never seen the Sacandaga and Hudson rivers rise as high and quickly at the same time as they have this week.
The Hudson gauge at North Creek was at 13.58 feet at 7 p.m. Thursday, while the “major flood” benchmark is 12 feet. The Schroon River, which joins the Hudson below Warrensburg, was at 10.02 feet at 7 p.m., with its “major flood” benchmark at 9 feet.
The Hudson also overflowed its banks in Hadley and Schuylerville, Saratoga County, Fort Edward in Washington County and the city of Troy.
In the city of Mechanicville, Public Works Commissioner David Higgins was keeping an eye on a new canoe launch that was placed in the Hudson River a week ago, but not locked into place.
“We’re watching that thing float at this point,” Higgins said. “It’s been tied up to the dock but it’s not installed yet.”
Reports of the Mohawk River, Schoharie and other creeks are also indicating high rushing water and Canajoharie Creek in Canajoharie was at “action stage,” which is high, but not quite flooded, McMahon said.
“There is still some snow in the north-facing slopes of the Adirondacks, which our satellite-derived graphic shows has a snow-water equivalent of an inch or two,” she said. “Combined with that is the rain of the last 72 hours, which added three to five inches of water flowing into streams and rivers.”
In southern states, tornadoes and flooding have led to nearly 300 deaths. Caroline Boardman of the American Red Cross in the Capital Region said local volunteers are being contacted.
“We received a request from the national headquarters for volunteers to respond to other states,” she said. “Depending on their availability and skill sets, we will be sending volunteers between now and the next few days.”
Flood warnings on Lake Champlain were also being monitored by the local Red Cross chapter and Boardman said shelters and other assistance would be sent quickly if needed.