TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter VanAvery
DATE: April 28, 2008

Albany, Watervliet, Troy, Rensselaer, and Green Island pay the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District an annual fee for flood protection. I wonder if their elected officials and residents realize that Great Sacandaga Lake has been full to the brim, with water gushing over the spillway at the Conklingville Dam, for the last 11 days in a row. A full flood-control reservoir is equivalent to no flood-control reservoir. On April 21, the level hit a record high -- 773.55 -- sending more than 2.5 feet of water over the spillway.

Above the dam, the bloated reservoir overflowed its banks, setting afloat boats, docks, barrels, beach toys, trash, tree trunks, brush, and other objects, and eroding the shoreline. Every public boat launch on the lake was flooded. The Northampton Beach Campsite was swamped, with water rising nearly to the roofs of its rest rooms. As the water has begun to recede, it has left behind a "ring around the bathtub," a strip of debris for access permit holders to clean up.

This is hardly the first time that the District has rolled dice with the safety of downstream people and property. Nor is it the first time that the District has shown its disdain for lake property owners, recreational users, and the local economy.

In the first 72 years of Great Sacandaga's history, the reservoir overflowed the spillway for part of a day or longer on only four occasions. But the 2002 Federal license on the reservoir placed new emphasis on the aggressive use of storage. Since then, the reservoir's level has exceeded 771 (the top of the spillway) on 10 days in 2003, on 4 days in 2004, on 9 days in 2006, on 9 days in 2007, and on 11 days so far this year.

The irony is that the current situation could have been totally avoided. Under the license, the District can drop the reservoir's level as low as 748 during the winter to provide needed storage space for spring snowmelt. This past season, the level never went lower than about 753. The District's excuse: Its ability to store/release water is handcuffed by the terms of the license. So earlier this year, when the reservoir was excessively high while the Hudson River was far below flood stage, the District says it was prevented from releasing more than a specified amount of water. That's insanity!

Just look at these other statistics:

The license says that because of the demands of the aggressive use of storage, the shoreline above elevation 768 -- the elevation at which the reservoir is considered full -- "may be more frequently exposed to erosive forces." The license then notes: "This would occur only during rare occasions when lake levels are at their highest point, typically during June and July."

But the level exceeded 768 for 59 days in a row from April to June 2003 ... for 51 days in a row from November 2003 to January 2004 ... for 31 days in a row from May to June 2004 ...for 34 days in a row from April to May 2005 ... for 34 days in a row from November to December 2005 ... for 28 days in a row from January to February 2006 ... for 97 days from April to July 2006 ... for 46 days in a row from November to December 2006 ... for 13 days in a row in January 2007 ... for 29 days in a row from April to May 2007 and for 18 days in a row this month and counting. Do those numbers fit your definition of "rare occasions"?

As for the license's comment that high water would occur "typically during June and July," remember December 2003, December 2005, and December 2006, when docks that should have been resting on dry lake bottom by then were afloat, trapped in ice, and crushed?

We've had low-water problems, too. Last August, low water levels shortened the boating season. I'm told that participants in a late-season fishing contest had difficulty in getting their boats into the water and, once there, suffered an inordinate number of dented or shattered props. Some vowed never to return.

From our point of view, the bad news is that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which issued the license, apparently agrees that the District is controlling the reservoir correctly. I know this firsthand. When the lake overflowed in 2003, I wrote several letters of complaint to FERC. In its response, the agency stated: "It is our finding that the licensee has been in compliance with the terms of the license."

Fortunately, we have options. We can petition the Governor, to whom the District reports, to replace its management (hired during Gov. Pataki's watch) with individuals capable of finding more flexibility in the terms of the existing license. Or we can seek to have the license amended, empowering the District to take corrective action to prevent the reservoir from becoming excessively high or excessively low.

In fact, the license contains a section explaining how it can be amended. Here's the background:

Tucked away in an appendix to the license is a key document called the Offer of Settlement. It sets forth the rules for the operation of the reservoir, including water-level targets. The document was negotiated over a 10-year period by stakeholders, including hydro plants, government agencies, Fulton and Saratoga Counties, lake organizations, and others (see full list below).

Page 17 of the Offer of Settlement explains that an amendment process can be launched by one of the licensees (the Regulating District or Brookfield Renewable Power), while Page 23 points out that any signatory to the Offer of Settlement may do the same. Make no mistake, the amendment process could be a tough slog. But at least it will identify who is for us and who is against us. Then we can focus the spotlight of public opinion on the foot draggers and pressure them to do the right thing.

The following stakeholders negotiated and signed the Offer of Settlement. Many of you are members of one or more of these groups. Ask their leadership to support an amendment:

Great Sacandaga Lake Association; Great Sacandaga Lake Fisheries Federation; Great Sacandaga Lake Marinas; Fulton County Board of Supervisors; Saratoga County Board of Supervisors; Town of Hadley; Sacandaga Outdoor Center; Adirondack Boardsailing Club; Adirondack Council; Adirondack Mountain Club; Adirondack Park Agency; Adirondack River Outfitters, Inc.; American Rivers; American Whitewater; Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks; Erie Boulevard Hydropower (now Brookfield Renewable Power).

Also, Feeder Canal Alliance; Glens Falls Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club; Hudson-River-Black River Regulating District; Hudson River Rafting Company, Inc.; International Paper Company; National Audubon Society; New York Rivers United; NYS Conservation Council; NYS Department of Environmental Conservation; Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. (now National Grid); Trout Unlimited; U.S. Department of the Interior (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service & National Park Service); and W.I.L.D.W.A.T.E.R.S.

Additional approaches we can try:

Item: Visits and letters to our elected officials. Since FERC is a Federal agency, this includes our delegations in Congress.

Item: A petition drive.

Item: A protest meeting/march.

Item: A class-action lawsuit. Although the buffer zone around the lake is owned by the people of New York State (in fact, the license says that it is part of the forever-wild forest preserve), it falls under the jurisdiction of the Regulating District. The District has abused this trust. Excessively high water levels have extensively eroded the people's shoreline, toppling thousands of trees, some more than a century old.

Please let me have your comments and ideas. This farce has gone on for far too long.

To be continued.


The next meeting of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's board will be held on Monday, May 12, 2008 at Town Hall, Town of Indian Lake, Pelon Road, Indian Lake, NY.