Sunday, January 31, 2010

More on Adirondack Carries and Gauge Readings

Several questions arose after last month’s post regarding carries on private land and interpreting gauge readings. A number of concerns noted situations where paddlers were on a LAKE and then got out of their boats on privately owned shores or docks. From everything I have read or heard, the discussions regarding the public’s rights of passage are focused on RIVERS. If a river is navigable—and it’s not always clear how this is defined—and it flows through private lands, the issue is when and in what manner a paddler can carry around obstructions that are encountered.
Some obstructions are “natural” — shallow water levels (e.g., shoals), downed trees or branches, beaver dams, and rapids that are too steep or congested for one to paddle safely. Other obstructions are man-made—dams, low-water bridges or road crossings, narrow culverts, fences/cables, and miscellaneous debris such as metal bars. With the exceptions of dams, most obstructions do not come into play when paddling a lake. As such, I see no reason why a paddler, under normal circumstances, would need to “carry” on the shores of a lake or, for that matter, along the banks of an unobstructed river. To do so without permission is to risk being charged with trespass.

Why my caveat about “normal circumstances”? I can see a number of situations that could lead to a paddler going onto private land without permission, with the hope that the landowner would be understanding. These include severe weather (lightning, high winds) and significant injury/illness and perhaps some miscellaneous things such as a bathroom break for a young child who just can’t wait any longer. Even so, such use of private lands needs to be as brief and un-invasive as possible.

Another question was why would river levels at one point in a river be different elsewhere along the river. River gauges provide a measure of the river’s flow at a set point, either in feet and inches—how deep the river is at the gauge site—or in cubic feet per second – the volume of water flowing past the gauge site. The “cfs” measure allows you to compare different rivers more easily—a river with 4,000 cfs will clearly have a lot more water in it than one with 2,000 cfs.

The “feet” measure is more dependent on the width of the river at the gauge site. For one river, a reading of 4 feet might indicate a low, summertime flow while another river at 4 feet could be very high. Visit this link to see actual graphs of water levels.

Let’s look at some real examples of how gauge readings may not correspond to actual river levels.

1) The Hudson River gauge at North Creek reads 3,500 cfs and someone wants to start at Newcomb and paddle to North Creek. Along the way, the Goodnow, Cedar, Indian, and Boreas Rivers flow into the Hudson, each contributing some volume of water. While the North Creek gauge reads 3,500 cfs, the section below Newcomb would have much less flow.

2) Someone wants to paddle the Permanent Rapids section of the Saranac and sees that the gauge at Plattsburgh reads 4 feet. There are about a half-dozen hydropower dams between Permanent Rapids and Plattsburgh. Will there be enough water to get down Permanent Rapids? It’s hard to say, as the dams may be holding back or releasing water.

3) The Raquette River gauge at Piercefield reads 5.50 feet and you can see that the dam there is releasing water. The first several rapids are at a good level. Then you reach a 2-mile long floodplain and then a 6-mile long floodplain. Each section acts like a sponge, with water spreading out in the nearby wetlands. The next rapid (Moosehead) could be pretty low as it is in a wide section of the river while the one after that (Moody Falls) could be quite high as it’s in a very narrow ravine.

Graphic: USGS graph of this week’s Hudson River levels at North Creek

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Mary Thill lives in Saranac Lake and has worked alternately in journalism and Adirondack conservation for three decades.

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