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Holding back Mother Nature, reservoir regulates floods

March 15, 2014 - Greg Hitchcock
"It’s like taking the bottom right from under them." Priscilla Edwards, Edinburg Town Historian

Weathering the storm in more ways than one, Executive Director Michael A. Clark said the mission of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District remains as important as ever.

According to the regulating district’s Website, the mission of the New York State public authority is to manage and operate reservoirs in the Hudson River-Black River watershed that regulates the flow of water for the public’s welfare.

In 1930, the Sacandaga Reservoir, today called the Great Sacandaga Lake, was created by an act of the New York State Legislature as a means to control spring water runoff which periodically flooded upper Hudson River communities like the cities of Albany and Troy.

The last major flood occurred in 1913 which prompted the state to create the Hudson River Regulating District with a mandate to create, operate, and maintain a reservoir and dam system; the regulating district was later incorporated with the Black River Regulating District.

“We provide flood protection and water augmentation (to the Hudson), in other words as the water gets low we add water,” Clark said. “Sometimes significant water.”

Clark, a professional engineer and graduate of Union College in Schenectady, New York, has worked for the regulating district since 2007 before being appointed executive director in 2011.

“The state also recognized it would benefit mills and other businesses significantly in the dryer months because historically they would have to shut down because the river was too low,” Clark said.

Clark pointed out there are 60 hydroelectric plants that generate a lot of power with almost 30 plants in the Black River area alone. “This reservoir significantly improved business operations by releasing water and metering it out to the businesses along the upper Hudson River,” he said.

As part of the establishment of the regulating district, a deal was struck by the authority and the plants that benefited from it by having the power plants share in the cost of the reservoir system.

Recently, Clark said, the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District was challenged in federal court and lost the means to continue being funded by the power plants in the Hudson River area, a source of funding for over 70 years.

“We reapportioned costs among the counties that benefit from the reservoir based on the amount of flood protection we calculated they received relative to one another.

Priscilla Edwards has been the historian for the town of Edinburg, located on the banks of the Great Sacandaga Lake, for the past 30 years. Her family has roots in the land for eight generations.

She said she recognized the importance to build a reservoir to control floods, but said it came at a huge cost, not only in dollars, at a price of $12 million, but in communities forever lost.

“It hurt people tremendously. For the people who lived here, it was a traumatic experience,” Edwards said.

Edwards explained that to families living in the Sacandaga River Valley living on their farms, it was all they knew.

“To be simply moved out and have their world turned upside down was a very traumatic experience for them,” she said.

Edwards said her grandfather managed a general store and post office in the Village of Osborne Bridge until the village had to make way for the reservoir flooding the community along with nearby farms.

“A lot of outfits knew ahead of time that this (the reservoir) was coming so they went around innocently buying up land. Not many knew they were affiliated with the power companies,” she said.

Edwards said today the power companies would never have gotten away with the land grab.

"Local people in this valley at the time didn’t have any money to fight with,” Edwards said. “They (the power companies) just took over this land.”


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