It’s a claim Foltan likes to make every time the news media starts sniffing around his fiefdom at the district’s offices in Fulton County. Does it really matter the lake surpassed an all-time high during a year that wasn’t exactly a record breaker when it came to snow pack. Who cares that erosion around the lake is rampant? And most of all, what does it matter if 283 billion gallons of water is slamming in to the aging structure that is the only thing standing between the downstream communities and an apocalyptic wall of water?
Administrators of Foltan’s ilk take glee in dismissing claims that the lake levels might be causing untold problems. Whenever the roughly 4,700 property owners around the lake complain about the high levels, he rightly points out the lake was created to control flooding on the Hudson River, into which the once meandering Sacandaga still flows. By stowing water in the lake each spring, the regulating district can allow the Hudson to drop below flood stage level, thereby preventing untold damage in low-lying areas as far north as Fort Edward and south at the Port of Albany.
With this mission at hand, Foltan claims it’s not the regulating district’s job to protect property owners around the lake. After all, the state owns every bit of shoreline lying 775 feet above sea level, or 7 feet over the 768-foot high water mark.
But what Foltan always seems to omit from the equation is the regulating district’s role in storing away more water than they were originally intended to withhold from the natural flow. Six years ago, they penned a 40-year agreement with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that allowed for the “aggressive use of storage capacity” on the reservoir.
By keeping the lake uncommonly high, the regulating district can release more water during the summer months, when the Hudson slows to a crawl. This allows the downstream hydroelectric companies –major lobbyists during the 2002 settlement agreement –to cash in on power generation during months when their facilities would otherwise languish.
Simply put, this policy is playing a dangerous game of chicken with Mother Nature. Had any significant rainfall struck the Adirondacks, there certainly would have been massive flooding along the Hudson and few options for the regulating district, other than offering several of their surplus row boats to downtown Albany.
More ominous is the level of erosion around the 125-mile-long shoreline caused by this hyper-storage. Anyone familiar with the sandy banks of the Sacandaga can attest, there’s been a lot of erosion since the settlement agreement was signed. In areas where there were once rolling sand beaches, there are now mudflats. Some parts of South Shore Road, the lake’s main thoroughfare through Saratoga County, appear to be threatened by the undermining of the shoreline.
The aging Batchellerville Bridge is surely taking a pounding from the six years of aggressive storage. Though the bridge is scheduled for replacement within the next three years, it still serves as the only passage between the lake’s north and south shores. And let’s not forget when the bridge was downgraded for an entire summer not too long ago.
The largest erosion concern caused by this storage policy could lie beneath the earthen dam itself. Though the regulating district claims to inspect the Conklingville Dam with vigor, they also have a nasty habit of leaving out details. For instance, they downplayed work on the dam’s spillway two years ago and didn’t think that failing of three emergency release valves last year was that big of a deal.
Perhaps they don’t care because they don’t need to care. Few members of the public know what the inherently corrupt regulating district is, much less that it actually purports to regulate something. And for decades, the public authority has served as a veritable dumping ground for political patronage. Though the governor-appointed board of directors conducts monthly public meetings, they often conduct them in obscure locations not likely to draw the sparse collection of activists and reporters actually following their transgressions.
For the time being, the Sacandaga issues are out of sight and out of mind for the public, which is largely removed from the process of its regulation. But as the lake regulators become more aggressive with their water storage and problems around the Hudson watershed compound, the public may find itself investigating a broad color of these issues once that bullet finally hits.