County wants flood help from Power Authority


By Patsy Nicosia

Counting down the 10-year anniversary to Hurricane Irene and the destruction left in its wake, supervisors’ Flood Committee met with New York Power Authority reps Thursday to work on their relationship.
Better access to protected dam safety information in NYPA documents, trees in the creek, and training exercises at the Blenheim-Gilboa Reservoir were all on the table. (See related story.)
But the question of how much water NYPA can hold back in its B-G reservoir should Irene ever repeat continues to haunt everyone downstream.
“I don’t want to be the guy who didn’t do anything…I don’t want to be the guy, the chairman of the Flood Committee, when there’s a loss of life and people are asking: What did you do these last 10 years,” said Blenheim Supervisor Don Airey.
“We have differing opinions on what the Gilboa Reservoir can do.”
During Christmas Day 2020 flooding, when three feet of melting snow slammed Blenheim and Middleburgh, NYPA did slow its discharge—something that’s easier with smaller events, said Regional Manager Brian Saez.
“But there’s still a moment…when you have to get out of the way,” he said, and NYPA’s wary of giving anyone the false sense of hope that would keep them from evacuating.
There’s a limit to how much water B-G can hold and for how long, Mr. Saez said, but sometimes a little makes all the difference, said Esperance Supervisor Earl VanWormer.
“When you buy us a little bit of time, our first responders can get people out of their homes,” he said. “Even a few hours. That’s a big deal.”
More than five inches of rain has already fallen locally in July, and Mike Hartzel, director of Emergency Services, asked what NYPA’s doing “right now? It’s hurricane season and the ground is saturated.”
“I wish I could say I could stop it,” Mr. Saez said. “But like with Irene, there’s only so much the state can do. There’s just not enough storage there.”
That’s why they do flood mapping and during COVID, also built a flood simulator, he said.
It’s not just NYPA’s B-G that worries Flood Committee members.
It’s also New York City’s Schoharie Reservoir further upstream.
Mr. Airey said they’re also pushing for more accountability from the Department of Environmental Protection, which manages that reservoir.
Even when heavy rain is in the forecast, it takes telephone tag all the way to Congressman Antonio Delgado to get DEP to draw down its reservoir, he said.
He asked that NYPA not resist its efforts there and Mr. Saez agreed.
But still Mr. Saez said, because of the volume of water involved, “I don’t think that will help. We still have an issue down here.”
Anything is something, supervisors said again, while agreeing they need to get to DEP through the agencies that regulate it, including DEC and the state Health Department.
NYPA has funded a USGS Flood Mapper camera for Prattsville that allows anyone to see water levels and what roads are flooded in real time, Mr. Saez said, and they’d like to get one funded for Blenheim.