June 14, 2006

George E. Pataki, Governor
Executive Chamber
State Capitol
Albany, NY 12224

Dear Governor Pataki:

This is to alert you to the fact that the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District, a state authority subject to your executive control, is rolling dice with the safety of municipalities along the Upper Hudson River.

The District operates Great Sacandaga Lake, a 29-mile-long reservoir that regulates the flow of the Upper Hudson downstream of its confluence with the Sacandaga River. The reservoir's prime mission is supposed to be flood control. Yet how do you assure the safety of downstream municipalities when the District keeps this reservoir practically brimful of water for weeks at a time? One does not have to be an hydraulic engineer to know that a full or nearly full flood-control reservoir is equivalent to no reservoir at all.

With a nearly full flood-control reservoir upstream, what if the Upper Hudson's watershed were suddenly hit with the same amount of rainfall that inundated Massachusetts and Maine just a few weeks ago? How would the District store it? Of course, one can always play the odds and hope for the best. That's exactly the kind of wishful thinking that prevailed in New Orleans for decades until that city's luck ran out.

The Great Sacandaga Lake is totally full when its water level reaches an elevation of 771 feet above sea level. Above that, the water flows uncontrollably over the spillway at the Conklingville Dam. Today, the reading is 770.2 -- which translates to just 9.5 inches of storage. Since May 1, the level has been above 770 for 25 out of 45 days (and counting) -- or more than one day out of every two. And for three of those days it exceeded 771. True, we've had plenty of rainfall in recent weeks. But over the past year, the District has repeatedly ignored opportunities to lower the reservoir to target levels.

During the summer, fall, and winter, the District is supposed to lower the reservoir's level to provide space for the spring runoff. The low-level target is 748. Since the beginning of this year, however, the reservoir has never been lower than 763 -- 15 feet above target. Remember the extended dry spell we experienced in April? Although the reservoir was 17 feet above target at the time, the District minimized discharges, sometimes shutting them totally down. Well, if you don't release water under those conditions, when will you?

Great Sacandaga Lake was created in the 1920s to prevent spring flooding that caused millions of dollars of damage to property in the cities of Albany, Troy, Rensselaer, and Watervliet and the Village of Green Island. Those municipalities now pay an annual assessment to the District to help cover the cost of running the reservoir. For the safety of their citizens and the protection of their property, I urge you and the mayors of those municipalities to demand that the Regulating District manage water levels responsibly.

Incidentally, the District's stock response to complaints is that its ability to store and release water is dictated by the Offer of Settlement and the 2002 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license on the reservoir, as interpreted by the District's Chief Engineer. The Chief Engineer's interpretation should be challenged; it appears to defy logic.

The reservoir's secondary mission is to provide hydro plants along the Upper Hudson with enough water during dry periods to keep their turbines spinning at maximum velocity. Power plant operators also pay an annual assessment to the District. In return, the license stipulates that the District should "make reasonable efforts to limit water releases from Great Sacandaga Lake in an effort to maintain maximum flows in the Hudson River ... for the purpose of minimizing energy losses to downstream hydroelectric projects." Do "reasonable efforts" include keeping the water level so high that it endangers the safety of downstream citizens and property? I think not.

As you have frequently pointed out, you have no greater responsibility than the safety of the citizens of New York State. To protect the populace living along the the Upper Hudson, I urge you to impress upon the managers of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District that flood control is their top priority -- or to replace them with personnel who fully comprehend that the District is a public benefit corporation that exists to serve -- not to endanger -- the public.


Peter VanAvery
Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee