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October 27, 2012

Sandy raises stream, dam fears

Hurricane to hit area Monday

By JOE MAHONEY
The Daily Star

---- — With Hurricane Sandy pointed to the Northeast and the Gilboa Dam filled to the brim, officials began draining some water from the 86-year-old reservoir Friday, sending it to the Shandaken Tunnel in Greene County. The release was one of a series of precautionary moves aimed at keeping damage from Sandy at a minimum  — and forestalling the kind of floods that devastated Schoharie County

14 months ago.

The National Weather Service’s updated forecast for the region said that “the main impacts of this storm will be felt later Monday into Wednesday.” The agency also cautioned that “significant uncertainty still exists with the track of this system.”

Meanwhile, NYSEG urged its customers to stock up on batteries and to keep flashlights on hand in the event of power outages.

Officials also suggested that residents to keep their cell phones charged.

The utility urged customers to avoid any downed power lines — even those that appear to be dead. It also recommended caution for those who find themselves operating gas-powered generators, saying they should only be used in well-ventilated areas and never in a garage.

To report electrical emergencies, NYSEG said its customers should call 1-800-572-1131. The emergency number for reporting natural gas problems to NYSEG is 1-800-572-1121.

National Grid said its customers could receive text message alerts about any service interruptions and restorations as a result of Hurricane Sandy. To get the alerts, customers should text the word “STORM” to 64743 (that spells NGRID) — and then follow prompts in return texts to sign up. Regular text-message charges apply, the utility noted.

Email alerts are also available to customers who create an online profile from National Grid’s web site — www.nationalgridus.com

The telephone number for reporting outages to National Grid is 1-800-867-5222.

In Schoharie County — where several communities are still recovering from the damage inflicted last year by Hurricane Irene — Harold Vroman, the chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said he was pleased that New York City officials acceded to requests to begin releasing water from the Gilboa Dam.

That dam, holding 18 billion gallons of water, is part of New York City’s water system.

“We’re getting prepared in case we get flooding here,” Vroman. “The release of the water today will alleviate some of the problem, because the GIlboa Dam is filled right now. It’s actually spilling over at the one notch a little bit. They’re not gong to be able to get it down much because, with the rain we have had the last couple of weeks, there is a lot of water coming in.”

The Shandaken Reservoir, Vroman noted, was at 78 percent capacity when the water releases began.

“They have room there,” he said of the Shandaken. “And we’re hoping this helps a little bit. But as you know as well as I do that if you get a lot of rain you are still going to get flooding.”

The possibility of flooding was also a top concern for Otsego County Soil and Water Conservation District manager Scott Fickbohm.

Given the pounding local streams took from storms in 2006 and again last year, he said, “The streams are basically unstable.”

“They can’t handle this amount of water in this short period of time,” Fickbohm said. “The only thing for them to do is move — migrate. You end up having culverts getting blocked up and houses imperiled. The streams evolve over time. Their shape reflects the amount of rain they have been receiving from these frequent and intense storms. It’s almost like a changing landscape.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency Friday for all of New York’s counties and mobilized the state’s emergency preparedness centers. Meanwhile, state officials canceled plans for a conference on emergency preparedness in Albany next week.

State officials also said the water level at the Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped Storage Power Project’s lower reservoir on the Schoharie Creek has been reduced to the minimum depth as a precaution against flooding. The New York Power Authority also has lowered the level of the Hinckley Reservoir, where the agency operates a small hydroelectric facility, to create additional storage capacity.

As for the Gilboa Dam, officials said the state Department of Environmental Conservation authorized an emergency draw-down of the Schoharie Reservoir at a rate of approximately 600 million gallons per day. Lowering the water level can reduce the amount of water that may spill over the top of the dam and flow downstream into Schoharie Creek.

Officials said the release will help create a “void space” in the Schoharie Reservoir. Water drained from the Schoharie is diverted through the Shandaken Tunnel to Esopus Creek then into Ashokan Reservoir.

The DEC also authorized releases from the Ashokan Reservoir at a rate of 600 million gallons per day to reduce peak storm flows by maximizing the use of reservoir storage, officials said. The releases will end with the onset of storm precipitation, or if any flood risk arises based on stream gauge monitoring, the state agency reported.