On July 16, the state Power Authority was directed by the state Canal Corp. to begin releasing a total of 1,350 cubic feet per second from the reservoir, which made the water level drop around 5 feet overall. . . .
Shane Mahar, deputy communications director for the Canal Corp., said the water released was to make up for a lack of released water so far in 2015. “Recently, we have been providing compensating flow to Erie Boulevard Hydropower because less water was released out of the reservoir earlier this year at the request of the Mohawk Valley Water Authority,” Mahar said.By the end of the month, however, the problem had shifted to low water levels in the West Canada Creek below the reservoir. Assemblyman Marc Butler and campground owner Mike Papp appeared on the WIBX Keeler Show and expressed concern over the lack of water in the West Canada Creek, with Mr. Papp commenting that normal flows at that time of year would be 800 to 1000 cfs, resulting in a creek level about 1 1/2 feet higher than it actually was (listen at about 4:00 in the interview). Further along concerns were expressed over how the creek would be impacted in the future by (1) withdrawals for Nano and (2) withdrawals by MVWA to serve western Oneida County.
Mr. Butler knows this issue better than any other public official in the region. His concerns are well placed and are not about a lack of water resources in the region, but over how those resources are managed.
The lack of a properly functioning Gray dam (destroyed by MVWA in 2002) contributes to the problem with water management, but how much needs to be calculated with reference to particular places, times, and purposes because the nature of the "problem" differs with place, time and purpose.
Hinckley Reservoir was built solely to supply the canal for navigation purposes. Riparian landowners along the West Canada Creek had no legal basis to object to diversion of creek water away from them for navigation purposes because that was always the state's right as sovereign under common law. Fluctuating water levels in both the reservoir and Creek would reflect the needs of the Canal for navigation.
Gray Reservoir existed to negate the impacts of MVWA's withdrawals. Under an old agreement with the State, Gray was supposed to store 120 days worth of water useage by the Utica area, with water to be released into Hinckley during dry weather to replace any water removed. The State originally required Gray to protect itself from claims by riparian landowners of infringement of their property rights because the State had no right to divert water for non-navigation purposes.
A couple years ago to settle a lawsuit, the State entered a new agreement with MVWA which removed the water storage requirement and ensured MVWA the right to withdraw about 48 Million Gallons of water per Day (MGD) from Hinckley. It is believed that the State did this to guarantee enough water for Utica area Nano projects, which were not only a priority for local officials, but for the governor himself. While the new agreement accomplishes this objective, it also exposes the State to liability to riparian property owners for any damages caused by withdrawals for non-navigation purposes.
To avoid being sued, the State must now operate Hinckley to not only supply the canal (its original mission) and ensure MVWA's right to 48MGD (a new mission), but to also mitigate MVWA's withdrawals to the extent necessary to keep riparian owners from suing (Gray's former mission). So far, the power company has successfully sued the state -- which explains the rapid draining of Hinckley in mid-July to make up for power lost to the power company earlier in the season.
The State will take the path of least resistance in juggling its rights with obligations to others. That juggling act will become ever more difficult as more water is diverted to the MVWA.
Whether or not other riparian landowners have retained sufficient water rights, have sufficient incentive, and have sufficient funds to sue the State themselves remains to be seen. Suffice it to say that if other owners do nothing, in the future, as more water is diverted to MVWA, the West Canada Creek will more frequently be reduced to only the lowest flow needed to sustain aquatic life. That will interfere with the Creek's recreational uses. If other landowners do successfully sue, then the State may have to reduce the water available to its Canal.