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Barge Canal / Mohawk River Flooding at Schenectady Examined:
Decades Without Follow-Through to Reduce Vulnerability

Go back to: Knolls Ice-Jams | ahead to: Vischers Ferry Dam

This information is from pp. 9-11 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.

The work of the Schenectady County Chamber of Commerce task force began in March 1977 (to counter the USA Corps of Engineers' proposal for a "control" levee at Schenectady, as early as a "…report dated 20 June 1955" per documents at the Main Library). Local newspapers reported that the task force had sought to reduce vulnerability and to mitigate effects. It had recommended adding new operational capabilities at the Vischers Ferry Dam and had tried to negotiate responsive understandings with NYS officials during the 1977-1979 period.

The task force's "Chronology" report, as stated in the preceding "Early Flooding…Overview" section, documented many matters/events through its period of work. Under a penciled-in heading, "Dept of the Army, N.Y. District, Corps of Engineers, N.Y., Mohawk River and Catskill Creek, N.Y., Review of Reports for Flood Control, 1975, Excerpts from.", a 9-page section concluded it. That reproduced information starts with a page numbered "5" and a paragraph "7. MAIN STREAM", then continues through many topics to a paragraph "19. HYDRO-ELECTRIC POWER" on a page "11". Jumping without clear linkage to other information reproduced from perhaps a similar source, the Chronology's last page includes two lengthy paragraphs, "82. Lowering the River Lake Level" and "83. Snagging and Clearing", with the latter paragraph obviously incomplete (the entire page is Appendix C herein) (3). Revealing excerpts from these two paragraphs, 82. and 83., respectively, follow (italics added) —

"Consideration was given to reducing the pool level along the Mohawk River upstream of Lock 7 by lowering the spillway of the dam at Lock 7… costs… estimated at 6 million dollars…unwise and uneconomic… further consideration was eliminated."

"…only a small number of jams… result of floating ice collecting at the bend of the river at Rexford. The remaining ice jams occurred as a result of ice collecting on the edge of an ice sheet which formed at the dam at Lock 7 and extended up stream to the Knolls below Rexford." (note this independent acceptance of the "ice-sheet" as a structure).

The means proposed — "lowering the spillway" — implying a permanent change and the entire width of the dam or a majority of it would be absolute overkill. Such a scope of thinking was not characteristic of the local committee or task force. Did anyone representing Schenectady urge, recommend or suggest permanently lowering the full width of "the spillway"? Who?

Surely, though, developing a capability that would allow selective "reduction of the pool-level" prior to a forecast potential for flooding, and during an actual event, by passing more water without overflow is a reasonable and proper objective. The very recent modifications to part of the Gilboa Dam illustrate the smaller-scale nature of preparatory possibilities within the infra-structure, as well as new operational procedures to reduce impacts during an event.

Within the Paragraph 83, the information of "…ice sheet…formed at the dam…" corroborates many documented historical observations, including one confirmed by the county's Director of Emergency Management as contributing to the actual flood of property in March 2007. That the annual ice-sheet forms so readily above the dam can become a useful key to confirming where new flood-mitigating measures should occur and what they might be.

Any other follow-up local documentary record outlining or describing any continuing process toward resolving the publicly expressed concerns directed toward the Vischers Ferry Dam and its impounded pool is hard to find — whether from the early post-dam years, when state officials promised to investigate and presumably did, or from (the focused local efforts toward action at) the end of the 1970's. The newspaper clippings file at the Main Library seems to be the principal or only finite source for information following the early post-"Chronology" report period. That loose file is likely to be incomplete for a variety of reasons.

According to the Schenectady Gazette in 1979, a NYSDEC seven-page report (no copy seems available) cited the "perennial threat", implying winter-spring thaws and ice jams, etc. but the threat actually exists year-round, e.g., the non-winter events of June 2006 and October 1955.

Almost three decades after the Schenectady task force started, the ongoing basic questions seem appropriate to reopening consideration and seriously —

"…who or what (as a specific agency or agencies) was involved in responding to Schenectady, how accountable were they — to whom and toward what ends?"

"Among the exchanges between Schenectady and NYS during the late 1970's, whatspecific reasoning and calculations (seem to have) "satisfied" the need for more-explicit, authoritative/specialized information, or what "won" and how or why?

Over those decades, hydrological monitoring and predictions have improved, as well as local procedures for notification. Nobody, however, appears to have acted further to improve the physical conditions leading to or causing the ongoing vulnerability to flooding at Schenectady, as shown by many subsequent flooding events, notably those of 1996, 2006 and early 2007.

Approaching a century of experience, should Schenectady remain content with that vulnerability as the first decade of the 21st Century rolls on?

The physical and/or operational response need not be "permanent" — it must be short-term, for generating power and retaining a proper "head" of water adjacent to and over the Great Flats Aquifer, if not also for navigation.


(3) The inclusion of lower-case with the numbering format in the headings suggests that the page is part of a US Army Corps of Engineers' response to local urgings about modifying the Vischers Ferry Dam.

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