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Barge Canal / Mohawk River Flooding at Schenectady Examined:
Swiftly Critical Commentary on Post-Dam/pool Flooding

Go back to: Early Flooding | ahead to: Knolls Ice-Jams

This information is from pp. 6-7 of Barge Canal / Mohawk River Flooding at Schenectady Examined: A Report to the People of Schenectady by James E. Duggan (Schenectady, 2007), and is reproduced here with permission of the author.

Prior to the late-March 1910, 1913 and 1914 flood stages, no local experience had existed toward (a) the year-round new pool much higher than the prior natural river flow and then, at Vischers Ferry, (b) the dam, complicating all major run-off flows from the river's large drainage basin, especially when aggravated by the presence and dynamics of ice.

Within Schenectady's historic vulnerability to the effects of ice-jams, distinguishing between those developing upriver, those virtually adjacent to the city and others downriver is very important to a clearer understanding of why so many local flood-levels occur.

The "Amtrak" bridge adjacent to the Stockade often restrains a substantial amount of ice, but whether the many piers and the ice actually cause severe restriction of subsurface flow there lacks clear evidence and deserves close examination.

Jams downriver along the 7.5-mile flowpath to the Vischers Ferry Dam often affect more- gradually and flood-levels can recede either quickly or slowly.

After almost a century of post-dam experience with ice and free-flows, the only improvements occur in several new bridges. Press statements (the Schenectady Union-Star) of that early time deserve renewed focus now as a foundation for new forward thinking. The daily reporting about the 1914 flood included the following captioned paragraph (italics added).

"State Engineers' Promises False"

"The promise of State engineers that the stationary dams along the Mohawk would not bring flood havoc have proven false. The worst has materialized. On the Saratoga side of the big dam above Vischer Ferry are arches and gates which laymen presumed were there to drain the pool or to relieve the pressure above in time of flood. They were not opened at any time and inquiry at Albany resulted in the information that they were fearful of worse havoc below in case any more water was allowed to pass the dam." (Schenectady Union-Star, 3/28/1914)

As the 1916 flood evolved with the disruptions, severe damages, expenses and fresh memories of the three prior floods (and the last two setting new record stages), two critical assessments appeared quickly. They explicitly raised a pressing public question about the wisdom exercised in engineering design (and/or operation) of the Vischers Ferry Dam. Headlines for the two statements follow below, while Appendix B supplies the full statements.

"Is The Vischer Ferry Dam A Blunder?"

Schenectady Satisfied That Barge Canal Construction Is Direct Cause of Excessive High Water Here — Laymen Put Pointed Questions to Engineers.

"State Engineers Studying Menace of Vischer Dam"

Schenectadians Advised That the State Is Concerned Over Flood Conditions and Seeking Remedy.

Accompanied by very damaging floods, the erection of the new "immovable" dam in Niskayuna with its year-round pool, contrasting with the liftable dams upriver and the resulting channelized but "natural" flows there (including ice-jams), had raised early suspicions about questionable design. The floods had become a very public matter.

Then and during the late 1970's, the record of review and response by NYS government to the concerns and questions from Schenectady remains unclear. Finally, now, we should probe the matter in appropriate detail and act to do all possible to minimize the problem of flooding.

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