There are a lot of rivers, streams and lakes to visit. For casual observers, it’s sometimes hard to tell how natural they are. Last year, I spent some time digging into all the ways that dams along the Saranac River change the flow of water and the life of fish.
But dams change something else, too: dirt.
Dams hold back and can suddenly release dirt, or they change the way water flows and those changes, in turn, change how sand and gravel build up both before and after dams’ spot in the river. Whole books, including the classic textbook Fluvial Processes in Geomorphology, have been written on these changes to dirt accumulation, usually known by the more technical word “sediment.”
This dirt is more than an academic exercise, though, as ongoing problems in the Town of Malone show.
There’s currently a lot of drama over some dirt that has built up in the Salmon River, which flows through Malone. The town is just outside the park, but the drama there is worth paying attention to.
Town officials say an accumulate of dirt in the Salmon River has “besieged” the town with ice jams and floods.
In a moving letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees power-generating dams, Town Supervisor Andrea Stewart blames a dam owner for failing to let town officials onto private property to figure out how to control the dirt and, in turn, calm the danger from jams and floods.
“This river is in our town,” Stewart wrote last February. “Our roads are impacted and flooded, our residents and taxpayers are displaced, and our municipal highway departments are stressed by the ice and flooding that occurs, sometimes several times during the winter season.”
Stewart said the flooding also endangers the nearby wastewater treatment plant and, so, could cause an environmental disaster in one of the tributaries of the internationally important St. Lawrence River.
The dams have changed hands over the years but the land in question is now owned by Erie Boulevard Hydropower, an energy arm of a massive Canadian infrastructure company with projects all over the world. The company said it has met with town officials but the officials have sent mixed signals about what they want to do about the dirt.
In a recent letter to federal regulators, Erie said it “objects to the town’s allegation that Erie has caused the sedimentation and further disputes any economic liability to the Town regarding removal of the sedimentation.”
Photo: Anglers on the Salmon River/Almanack archive
Editor’s note: This first appeared in Ry’s “Water Line” newsletter. Click here to sign up.