TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter Van Avery
DATE: May 27, 2011

Excessively high water levels at Great Sacandaga Lake have become insufferable. On May 1, snow melt and heavy rai ns sent the lake surging to a record high of 774.46 feet above sea level. A 3.46-foot torrent of water gushed over the Conklingville Dam's spillway.

The high water gnawed at the lake's 129-mile-long shoreline, undermining trees and banks, and set adrift boats, docks, and stairways that their owners thought were safely stored. One property owner, in less than one hour, counted five docks drifting past his camp.

This comes at a time when the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District can no longer afford to repair shoreline erosion. In 2008, a Federal court ruled that the District could no longer bill downstream hydroplant operators for its operating expenses. This decision lopped off more than 80 percent of its Hudson River Area revenue.

Another high-water casualty is the Batchellerville Bridge replacement project. Two of its cofferdams are submerged. Work on those two piers is on hold until the water level subsides.

What especially aggravates permit holders is that the heavy rains were forecast several days in advance. With the lake already many feet above target, why didn't the District dump water to create more storage space? It could have done so without causing flooding on the Hudson River. The District's response: Its ability to store and release water is handcuffed by the terms of the 2002 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license on the reservoir/dam/power plant.

As its May 10 meeting, the District's board took up the problem. Said Board Member Philip Klein: "Something has to be done." The Board asked the Chief Engineer to review the license and see if he could find some flexibility. I'm not optimistic. When the lake overflowed back in 2003, I wrote several letters of complaint to FERC. The agency responded: "It is our finding that the licensee has been in compliance with the terms of the license."

In the first 72 years of Great Sacandaga's history, the reservoir overflowed the spillway on only 4 occasions. But the 2002 Federal license on the reservoir placed new emphasis on the "aggressive use of storage." Major beneficiary of this change: those same downstream hydroplants that no longer have to pay for the reservoir's operating costs. Since then, the reservoir's level has exceeded 771 (the crest of the spillway) on 10 days in 2003, on 4 days in 2004, on 9 days in 2006, on 9 days in 2007, on 16 days in 2008, and on 15 days so far in 2011.

This year, the water-storage problem was compounded by the fact that, under the terms of the license, the maximum winter drawdown was reduced by 1 foot -- to 749, instead of the 748 in effect since 2002. The maximum drawdown will be reduced by yet another foot, to 750, in 2021. If the situation is bad now, what will it be then?

According to the license, aggressive use of storage may cause the shoreline above 768 to "be more frequently exposed to erosive forces." The license 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 in a row 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 ... for 30 days in a row from April to May 2008 ... for 20 days from May to June 2009 ... and for 36 days in a row and counting from April to May 2011.

"Rare occasions"? "Typically during June and July"?

The license will be in effect for a 40-year period. Can its terms be altered to apply common sense to the storage and release of water? Theoretically, yes. Tucked away in an appendix is a key document called the Offer of Settlement. It sets forth the rules for the reservoir's operation, including water-level targets. Before the license was issued, the Offer of Settlement was negotiated over a 10-year period by various stakeholders, including hydroplant operators, government agencies, Fulton and Saratoga Counties, lake organizations, and others (see 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. The following negotiated and signed the document. (The BBAC was created too late to get in on the action.) 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.

Make no mistake, amending the license to allow the Chief Engineer to apply common sense in extraordinary situations will be a tough slog. But at least it will identify who is for us and who is against us. Then public opinion can be focused on the foot draggers.


The next meeting of the District's board will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, June 14, 2011, at Inlet Town Offices, 160 Route 28, Inlet, NY.


The lake's level is currently at 770.5 feet above sea level, about 3 feet above target.