Thursday, September 22, 2022

Turning water into snow

Skiiers at the Mount Van Hoevenberg complex. Explorer file photo by Mike Lynch

The state Olympic Regional Development Authority seeks a permit to withdraw up to 235,000 gallons of water per day from wells and a brook at Mount Van Hoevenberg to primarily bolster snowmaking at the bobsled and cross country skiing venue.

The permit application comes after the state funded a series of major upgrades at the site, including a new visitors lodge, improved trails and modernized snowmaking equipment. A new 3.5 million gallon reservoir can hold the water needed to make snow at the site. The upgrades also aim to attract international competitions to the venue like the World University Games slated for this winter.

It seems clear that ORDA has been operating the facility out of compliance with a 2012 law that requires any water withdrawal system with a capacity of at least 100,000 gallons per day obtain a permit. ORDA acknowledged they have withdrawn more than 100,000 gallons at least in recent years. But it’s not clear for how long the site’s daily withdrawal capacity has topped 100,000 gallons.

While reporting on the Mount Van Hoevenberg permit, I pulled the latest annual water withdrawal reports from Whiteface, where a major snowmaking operation keeps trails in use. In some recent years, the ski center withdrew over 500 million gallons from the Ausable River to make snow during the ski season. (The water, of course, ultimately melts and returns to the watershed.) Water use in snowmaking is an interesting topic that I will need to look more into and one that I can imagine becoming more important if climate change continues to eat away at winter recreation seasons.


Photo: Skiers at the Mount Van Hoevenberg complex. Explorer file photo by Mike Lynch

Editor’s note: This first appeared in Zach’s weekly “Water Line” newsletter. Click here to sign up.

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Zachary Matson has been an environmental reporter for the Explorer since October 2021. He is focused on the many issues impacting water and the people, plants and wildlife that rely on it in the Adirondack Park. Zach worked at daily newspapers in Missouri, Arizona and New York for nearly a decade, most recently working as the education reporter for six years at the Daily Gazette in Schenectady.

8 Responses

  1. Joe Kozlina says:

    What ever power used to pump all that water to the top of the mountain should be viewed very closely so as to not add to our carbon footprint. At some point we as humans will need to live with nature and what nature provides us and do with what we are given by it. If we lack snow because of the climate we changed then we live with it and ski further north where there is snow or ski when there is snow, naturally. We all talk about climate change but changing how we live because of it is the hard part. Its time to start.

  2. AdirondackAl says:

    Well said Joe.

    • Balian the Cat says:

      When I think of all the money that goes into the snowmobile economy and then consider the affects of Climate change on it and other winter related industries in NNY/NE, I wonder at what point is it good money after bad?

  3. Boreas says:

    It should be noted that pumping water from natural streams and lakes during winter is not a benign event. Because any precipitation is likely to be locked up in ice or snow until a thaw, stream levels and flows can get quite low as a natural consequence. Pulling large amounts out of these water supplies endangers aquatic wildlife struggling to survive winter conditions, but often is ignored in winter. Things like anchor ice and deeper freezing of stream/lakeside soils can cause significant disruption in aquatic organism life, and unnaturally raising/lowering of water levels only complicates matters. I would like to see more unbiased research on heavy surface water draws of this type in winter, and its effects on aquatic life and riparian habitat.

  4. Kevin P Hickey says:

    Let’s see….you draw water out of a water source such as a pond, stream, lake or river. With that water you make snow and put it on the mountain or venue to allow skiing, snowboarding, ski jumping, cross country skiing etc., etc. This boosts the local economy due to tourists and locals enjoying life and health in the great outdoors and spending their money locally. Come Spring….the snow melts into water and recycles into our waterways. Is recycling bad? Does anyone ever think this through???

    • Boreas says:

      Indeed, think it through. Less water in a stream or pond/lake has what effect during a time of already low oxygen levels and low water flows? Overwintering is a stressful time for aquatic plants and animals. Pulling dramatic amounts of water from these sources during this time has what effects on riparian ecology? I don’t have a problem with pulling water out of on-site reservoirs, but ground/well water and streams/rivers/ponds/lakes has different consequences.

    • Joe Kozlina says:

      Making snow at what cost? Pumping water at what cost? We aren’t talking about money hear or people having fun or boosting economys. The thinking thru we are to do is at what cost. The short term thinking of pump the water, make the snow, ski the mountain. That used to work for the short term. Now we are paying the price for that type of thinking thru. We need a new thinking so as not to repeat the same mistakes.

  5. JohnL says:

    Here’s the choices we have if winters are getting warmer.
    1. Make artificial snow and/or ice and keep the North Country tourist business truckin’.
    2. Don’t make artificial snow and/or ice and try to stay open 1/2 the time you used to. (Probably can’t stay in business like this.
    3. Don’t use valuable water and power to make artificial snow and/or ice and shut down winter tourist businesses.

    Now, if you’rs a true believer in Global warming, er, Climate Change, AND you’re NOT a hypocrite, you should pick #3. You would bite the bullet and do ‘your share’ in saving us from catastrophe. since this wouldn’t require using valuable water and power resources.

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