Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Unfolding Water Crisis Story -- and Some Thoughts

Tonight the O-D published "Water Crisis: What Went Wrong?" To date it is probably the best description so far of what happened last summer to cause the crisis which put the entire Greater Utica area and West Canada Valley at risk.

A couple passages, however, rang some bells:
As the reservoir dropped, authority leaders said the changes appeared so dramatic because of the shape of Hinckley’s basin. “It's essentially doing exactly what it's designed to do,” authority Executive Director Patrick Becher said of the reservoir in early August.
Is it really? Has anyone estimated the amount of reservoir capacity that is now occupied by silt? After 90 years, there is the potential for some significant accumulation. If the reservoir contains a lot of silt, there is that much less space left to hold water. Additionally, how much silt was released when Gray Dam was destroyed? To what degree has silt accumulation changed Hinckley's capacity to hold water?
What many officials did not know is that the numbers they reviewed were flawed. Government agencies were overestimating the inflow into Hinckley Reservoir and did not fully understand the physical structure of the outflow area, some state officials said.
Why was the inflow into Hinckley overestimated? The "rule curve" used to control releases from Hinckley was written about 3 years after the 1917 Agreement was written (which required compensating flows from Gray Reservoir into Hinckley). Both were developed by the State Engineer. The "rule curve" had to have taken into account the agreed-upon releases from Gray. Could the agencies have been relying on inflow information that also contemplated releases to Hinckley from the now destroyed Gray Reservoir?

Hopefully the Working Group's Final Report will answer these questions, and tell us exactly what went wrong.


Outdoorsman said...

I am still convinced that the Mohawk Valley Water Authority played a significant role in this water fiasco.

What does concern me as fisherman, is the amount of silt (sediment) that has filled the bottom of Hinckley Reservoir.

Having fished this area for many, many years and during the times when the Gray Dam was up and functional; there never were water problems like the one we had last years.

If I were a betting person, I would lay much of this blame on the poor management within the MVWA. I would like to know if they ever fished in Hinckley?

waterboy said...

I think the Water Authority should of took their problem to the public (media) sooner then later.
The real public seen the problem months before it came to light in the media.

As for sediment, Outdoorsman and Strike seem to think that Gray was full to the brim with sediment and when the dam came down it all flowed into Hinckley. WRONG. The dam removal was closely watched the State as is any project that deals with work in or near a stream
(silt protection). Never mind more harm comes from the heavy rains and runoff around the reservoir.

Gray dam was never "functional"!

Please re read the OD artical. It was CANALS CANALS CANALS. They over drew. Not the Water Authority. Their feeder canals were flooding the residents lawns not the Water Authority's. They ran the W.C. Creek Dry.

Strikeslip said...

Waterboy -- In the context of what happened last fall, I have to agree with you. Canals overdrew -- no doubt in my mind about it.

But the impact of Silt still needs to be assessed. There is a potential for silt to significantly reduce the storage capacity of Hinckley -- whether irregardless of whether the silt comes from old Gray or the WCC. It cannot be denied that silt accumulates -- where did it go?

Additionally, why the miscalculations of inflow to Hinckley? MVWA wants the Rule Curve suspended in times of low flow (to retain more water in Hinckley) . . . but that is precisely the time that MVWA should be contributing its own flow to Hinckley from Gray. Both the Rule Curve and the 1917 Agreement were drafted by the State Engineer. It would make no sense for the engineer NOT to have taken contributions from Gray into account when drafting the Rule Curve.

waterboy said...

I agree that silt dose play a part in any reservoir but the but not from Gray. Maybe study is due to correct the volume of Hinckley but no amount of dredging could prevent and Criminal Act that the Canals committed this past summer. As for where dose the silt go, as a parent I would say, the kids, after a day at the reservoir.

The rule curve is a guide, Canals didn't follow it when they were over drawing. What is the difference if the MVWA did? The main difference is the MVWA has to ask and Canals does what it wants.

What I dont get is in the OD ( I think Wednesday)one of the time line show a withdraw for Gray caused "no significant impact at Hinckley" (paraphrase).

Strikeslip said...

The point about the Rule Curve is that if the Hinckley Dam operating instructions (the Rule Curve) was based on the (now) Water Authority releasing water from Gray Dam when the weather is dry, then the Rule Curve needs to be changed to reflect less water being put into the system during dry weather.

While a change in the Rule Curve will have no effect on situations like last summer's crisis (because the Curve was ignored), a change in the Curve could reasonably result in the State charging MVWA for use of ITS reservoir.

If the state or the state power authority or state canal corp has to change its operations to make up for the lack of compensating flows from Gray, you can be sure that it will not come free of charge.

Compliance with the 1917 Agreement, however, would have guaranteed MVWA's right to use Hinckley free of charge -- forever.

Greens and Beans said...

I am impressed with the direction of this conversation. Albeit, I am particularly unimpressed with the Newspaper’s lack of any mention of the 1917 agreement that mandated the preservation of a (spleen) being Gray Reservoir that was intended to act as an emergency backup water supply for Hinckley Reservoir. “Water Boy” brought up a valid point when he expressed that “The dam removal was closely watched the State as is any project that deals with work in or near a stream (silt protection).” Now this would beg the question of the State of New York’s culpability in terms of breaking the law as being an accomplice in the criminal act of the Gray Dam dismantling. Moreover, this may explain why there has been no action by New York Attorney General’s Office in terms of conducting an investigation into this breach of contract.

Strikeslip said...

Good Point G&B. The state is not exactly guilt free here. The DEC knows that the water supply permit it gave to MVWA depended upon MVWA's right to take water under the 1917 Agreement... the permit made specific reference to that.

DEC is a big agency. We can only speculate what may have happened. Perhaps the dam safety people who wanted Gray to be taken down or repaired were not talking to the water supply people on what removing the dam would mean to the foundation of the water supply permit. Or perhaps DEC just assumed that its water supply permittee was complying with the agreement.

Regardless, that would have been the ideal time for someone to sound the bell and ask MVWA to prove that it would still have the authority to continue to draw from Hinckley after Gray's destruction when the plain language of the agreement says otherwise.

The whole lawsuit thing (with its very expensive costs to rate payers) could have been avoided, and the parties could have amicably -- and much more quickly than now -- negotiated an agreement because no one had dug in their heels.

I've seen a lot of stupid moves by government, but the destruction of Gray without first getting a buy in from all the other interested parties was a WHOPPER.

Milton said...

A SEQR was completed before the dam was removed. It's not like it was taken down under cover of darkness.

Maybe the State should pay to rebuild it (if it is found to be necessary).