Most people don’t think about culverts, the large pipes that carry streams and runoff underneath our roads. Even with their essential role in our transportation infrastructure, culverts tend to be in the spotlight only when they fail. In dramatic ways, Hurricane Irene and other recent storms have put culverts (and bridges) to the test. Unfortunately, the high water from these storms overwhelmed many culverts, washing out roads, causing millions of dollars in damages across the Adirondacks, and disrupting life in many communities. For example, the town of Jay sustained about $400,000 in damage to its culverts and adjacent roads as a result of Irene. Across the Northeast, the story is much the same.
Following Tropical Storm Irene, I was part of a team of conservation professionals to assess the performance of road-stream crossings (i.e., culverts and bridges) in Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest. The peer-reviewed study, published in the current issue of Fisheries, found that damage was largely avoided at crossings with a stream simulation design, an ecologically-based approach that creates a dynamic channel through the structure that is similar in dimensions and characteristics to the adjacent, natural channel. On the other hand, damages were extensive, costly, and inconvenient at sites with stream crossings following more traditional designs. » Continue Reading.
When Tropical Storm Irene damaged Marcy Dam, draining most of the pond behind it, hikers debated passionately whether the dam should be rebuilt to restore an iconic vista enjoyed by tens of thousands of visitors over the years.
It looks like it won’t be.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation recently decided to dismantle the wooden dam in stages over the next five years.
DEC spokesman David Winchell said the cost of rebuilding the dam to modern standards would have been too costly and may have conflicted with the management principles for the High Peaks Wilderness Area. Those principles seek to minimize the presence of man-made structures. » Continue Reading.
On the morning of July 11, 2013 those living along Foster Brook which enters Lake George at Hulett’s Landing were surprised by the sudden raging water of a beaver dam breach. The upstream pond held back by the dam was estimated at about 9-acres and was all but entirely drained after the dam washed away.
The resulting flood downstream caused significant damage to parts of Foster Brook as well as some damage to homes and roads along the brook. One area severely impacted by the flooding waters was the offline sediment basin along Foster Brook near the Mountain Grove Church. The flash flood came down the mountain severely eroding streambanks and the rock vane built last year to address chronic erosion issues. » Continue Reading.
One of the many cars caught by the flood on Route 73
Fifty years ago, on June 29, 1963, a thunderstorm stalled over Giant Mountain. Heavy rain saturated the thin soil near its summit, gradually weakening its hold on the smooth anorthosite surface.
It was a Saturday: several hikers and campers were on the mountain. Three thousand feet below, traffic – some of it from a wedding just over in Keene Valley — passed up and down the long hill on Route 73 that offers a glimpse of Giant’s Roaring Brook Falls. » Continue Reading.
The Lake Champlain Basin Program (LCBP) has released a new report, Flood Resilience in the Lake Champlain Basin and Upper Richelieu River. The report presents results of an LCBP flood conference held in 2012 at the request of Vermont Governor Shumlin and Quebec’s (former) Premier Charest, following the spring 2011 flooding of Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River Valley. The report provides a review of the 2011 flooding impacts and includes specific recommendations to help inform flood resilience policies and management strategies to reduce the impact of major floods anticipated in the future. » Continue Reading.
The Lake Champlain Basin Program will be hosting the Lake Champlain Basin Flood Resilience Conference Monday, June 4th through Tuesday, June 5th at the University of Vermont. The results of this conference will provide Vermont, New York and Québec governments with technical and policy information about the flood events from Lake Champlain’s spring 2011 record high water level and tropical storm Irene last August. Speakers from all three jurisdictions will share their knowledge with researchers, government officials and the public.
Bill Howland, LCBP Program Manager noted, “This two day conference draws information from two technical workshops held in Quebec in February and New York in May.” Howland stated that many topics will be covered including flood response for rivers and lakeshores, emergency response, flood vulnerability assessment, as well as impacts to agriculture, and more. It is through the cooperative effort of many lake and river partners, including the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and the office of U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, that this conference will be made possible. » Continue Reading.
Do you have questions about the connection between last year’s flooding and global climate change? Are you skeptical about the causes of climate change? Are you looking for options to cut your energy bills and reduce your dependence on fossil fuels?
An upcoming Community Climate Forum is expected to address all of these issues, and more. The forum, sponsored by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Adirondack Program and the Adirondack Green Circle, is scheduled for April 22, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Pendragon Theater in Saranac Lake. » Continue Reading.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a $5,120,000 investment for NY Works projects that will allow for eight flood control system and dam repair projects in the North Country. Projects slated for the Adirondack North Country include the Lower Lows Dam and Upper Lows Dam on the Bog River. Those dams, made of concrete and located in a area classified Primitive, are favored by paddlers on the Bog River, Hitchins Pond, and Lows Lake. The other dams slated for repair are Palmer Lake Dam in North Hudson (popular with anglers); Taylor Pond Dam in the town of Black Brook, southwestern Clinton County (part of the Taylor Pond Wild Forest); Kingdom Road Dam which holds back Lincoln Pond in Elizabethtown; Main Mill Dam in the City of Plattsburgh; and Whiteside Dam. All are considered “Critical Dam Repairs.” The funds will also support a Malone flood control project. Two notable back country dams gave way late last summer during Hurricane Irene. The Marcy Dam is expected to be rebuilt. DEC has decided that the Duck Hole Dam will not be rebuilt. » Continue Reading.
The Wild Center will host climate experts and authors of a recent New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) report on the State’s adaptation recommendations regarding “Responding to Climate Change in New York State” or “ClimAID” on Thursday, March 29, 2012.
Scientists will highlight pertinent findings of the ClimAID report and then Adirondack region scientists and members of the Adirondack Climate and Energy Action Plan (ADKCAP) network will discuss local efforts to prepare for and slow the changing climate. The event coincides with the Association of Science and Technology Center’s (ASTC) participation in the international “Planet under Pressure” conference in London, where The Wild Center’s Executive Director, Stephanie Ratcliffe, a member of the ASTC board, will join the ClimAID event by Skype or phone to share the international perspective. The event will be streamed live on the Internet and light refreshments will be provided by The Wild Center.
NYSERDA’s new ClimAID report on responding to climate change in New York State says we’re likely to see more intense rainstorms that could flood roads and wastewater treatment plants, cause power outages, and disrupt telecommunications, inflicting the kinds of severe damage that Irene did last year. Repairs could be costly. So could business interruptions.
Protecting key features of the environment that contribute to flood control can help build resilience to future floods.http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif
You can learn more about how climate change may affect our region at The Wild Center’s March 29 ClimAID presentation on Thursday, March 29, 2012 from 10:00 am to noon and other upcoming ADKCAP/NYSERDA ClimAID discussions.
The ClimAID presentation will be held in the Flammer Theater, The Wild Center, 45 Museum Drive, in Tupper Lake.
U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) have announced that they have secured funding to prevent the imminent shutdown of 18 United States Geological Survey (USGS) river and lake gauges in the Lake Champlain basin. Those gauges – nine in Vermont and nine in New York – were seen as vital to communities impacted by last year’s spring floods and during Tropical Storm Irene. The funding has been secured through the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC). » Continue Reading.
A significant part of climate is precipitation, and fundamental to any discussion on the impact that global warming is having on a region’s climate would have to include possible changes to the rain and snowfall patterns. While unusually prolonged periods of precipitation can turn a backcountry camping trip into a nightmare, discourage golfers, boaters, and other outdoor enthusiasts, and frustrate anyone trying to put a new roof on his/her home, or a coat of stain on the deck, too much rainfall, especially concentrated over a short span of time, can wreak havoc with the environment. » Continue Reading.
One of the more amazing statistics to emerge from Tropical Storm Irene was that the East Branch of the Ausable crested at 18.43 feet in Ausable Forks—three feet higher than the previous record and more than eleven feet above flood stage. The river’s flow peaked at fifty thousand cubic feet per second, a hundred times greater than normal.
Just a few months after the record storm, the U.S. Geological Survey is warning that it will be forced to discontinue most of the streamgages in the Lake Champlain basin on March 1 unless funding can be found to keep them going.
Throughout New York State, the USGS plans to discontinue thirty-one gages, including nine in or near the Adirondack Park. (The USGS uses the spelling “gages” rather than “gauges.”)
The gage that measured the record crest on the East Branch of the Ausable is not on the chopping block, not yet anyway. However, one nearby that is at risk has been in operation for more than eighty years, longer than any of other gages scheduled to be discontinued.
“We’ve got eighty-two years of records at this site. It is important for determining how flows are changing over time,” said Ward Freeman, director of the USGS New York Water Science Center in Troy. The center’s website contains real-time data from rivers throughout the state.
Streamgages measure the height and flow of rivers. Data are used to predict floods, calculate nutrient pollution, assess conditions for paddling, and determine when it’s appropriate to put lampricide in tributaries of Lake Champlain.
John Sheehan, spokesman for the Adirondack Council, warned that without stream data, riverside communities will find it more difficult to protect themselves. “We won’t know what the changes in a river’s height and volume are, and as a result we can’t plan for flooding events,” he said.
In the past, many gages were funded through congressional earmarks, but lawmakers eliminated the earmarks a few years ago to save money, Freeman said. He added that the USGS needs $134,000 to keep the nine North Country gauges operational. (Each gage costs about $15,000 a year to operate and maintain.)
Eight of the gages are on rivers that feed Lake Champlain. Besides the Ausable, they are the Great Chazy, Little Ausable, Salmon, Boquet, Mettawee, and Putnam Creek. The ninth is on a narrow part of Lake Champlain itself near Whitehall.
Gages on another dozen rivers in Vermont that feed Lake Champlain also are scheduled to be shut down. Four others were discontinued in October.
This year, USGS was able to keep the gages on Lake Champlain tributaries running only after obtaining financial assistance from the Lake Champlain Basin Program. Freeman said he hopes the Lake Champlain organization and other interested parties can come up with money again.
“We’re going to do all we can to save these gages,” Freeman said.
Eric Howe, a technical coordinator for the basin program, said the non-profit organization will do everything it can to keep the gages operational, but it’s too early to tell if the group will have enough funds. Last year it spent about $150,000 to keep the gages running.
“The gages were extremely important during Tropical Storm Irene,” Howe said. “They helped us see what the tributaries were doing in the flooding.”
Thanks to a gage on the Winooski River, he said, farmers were able to round up volunteers to harvest crops in advance of floods.
Freeman is asking those willing to contribute funding for the gages to call him or Rob Breault at 518-285-5658 or email [email protected]
Click here to read the Adirondack Explorer’s comprehensive coverage of Tropical Storm Irene.
Photo by Ken Aaron: a high-water line near Ausable Forks.
How much rain fell during Tropical Storm Irene? Seems like an easy question, but it’s not.
The National Weather Service relies on volunteers to collect rainfall, and given the variance in rainfall and the finite number of volunteers, there are bound to be gaps in the data record.
For the current issue of the Adirondack Explorer, Nancy Bernstein created a rainfall map based on the Weather Service’s own maps. It shows that more than seven inches of rain fell in Keene, Jay, and Au Sable Forks. But how much more? The Explorer’s publisher, Tom Woodman, measured eleven inches at his home in Keene. » Continue Reading.
Landowners and volunteers are being sought to participate in planting trees along river and stream corridors in the Ausable River Valley on Friday, October 14. The tree planting will be part of an event to kickoff a new program to restore and protect river and stream corridors in the Lake Champlain watershed by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
Landowners with property along the Ausable River, either of its branches or any their tributaries that need trees along the river and stream banks can receive free trees from the DEC Saratoga Tree nursery planted by volunteers. The trees will shore up eroded stream banks, protect property from flood damage and improve wildlife habitat. Volunteers are being sought to join federal, state and local officials in planting trees along stream and river banks. Volunteers will meet at Marcy Field along Route 73 in the Town of Keene at 10 am on October 14. Refreshments will be available at that time. After hearing about the new program and receiving encouragement and instruction from officials, volunteers will be assigned to teams and plant trees under the instruction of a team captain. DEC and others will be providing transportation for volunteers and the trees.
The tree planting will wrap up by 4 pm, or when all trees or sites have been planted. Volunteers do not have to stay until end, they can plant for as much time as they desire. Volunteers are asked to dress properly for the being outside and the weather conditions for that day as the event will take place rain or shine. Sturdy hiking shoes or boots will be needed. Volunteers should also bring the following items:
* Work gloves; * Shovel (if possible, there will be some shovels available ); * Water bottle; * Snacks (if desired); and * Lunch (if you plan to work into the afternoon).
Landowners and volunteers are encouraged to contact their local town office or the DEC (897-1291) before close of business Thursday, October 13, if they plan to participate. In the Town of Keene contact Supervisor Bill Ferebee at 576-4444, and in the Town of Jay contact Supervisor Randy Douglas at 647-2204.
The Lake Champlain conservation projects are part of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) initiative and these conservation projects are receiving $1.3 million dollars. On October, 12 the Obama Administration is releasing a report which details how AGO is opening up access to lands and waters, restoring critical landscapes, and supporting thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity. The report outlines combined conservation and recreation successes, including gains in youth employment, new trail designations, the creation of urban campgrounds, and historic investments in large landscapes from Lake Champlain to the Florida Everglades.
Photo: A recent Ausable River tree planting volunteer effort (Courtesy Ausable River Association).
“It is unfortunate that dredging has proceeded without any guidance from river experts who could provide natural stream dimensions based on a rapid assessment of natural bankfull, pool depth and riffle spacing. Measurements that could be done in a few hours and eliminate years of lost habitat,” stated Carol Treadwell, Executive Director of the Ausable River Association (ARA).
Natural stream dimensions? Bankfull? Pool depth? Riffle spacing? What is this, a how-to manual? A certain amount of assembly required? Or a level of river awareness and fluency that any floodplain community had better strive for? It is understandable why the small streams and rivers in this heavily damaged region of the Adirondacks (twice this year) may be viewed as marauding aliens and enemies which require a serious “talking to” by backhoe. The human and community impacts of the flood are enormous and gut wrenching.
Yet, post World War Two we keep building in floodplains, whether we know we are or not. A favored textbook reads: “The average annual flood damage nationwide… has continued to increase… The use of flood-prone land continues to rise faster than the application of measures to reduce flood damages. This continues to be one of the foremost challenges to land planners – finding ways to control the use of flood-prone areas, and ways of requiring those who seek the advantages of use of floodable areas to assume a fair proportion of the financial risk involved in such use” (Water in Environmental Planning, by Thomas Dunne and Luna Leopold, 1978).
Carol’s quote was submitted for a news release issued this week by a coalition of concerned organizations and individuals who live in these communities, along with a letter to Governor Cuomo seeking an end to floodplain management by bulldozer, and a meeting to assess how best to respond to the altered nature of these waterways in ways that are mindful of people, property, stream health, aesthetics and tourism on which so many of these towns and Essex County depend.
Carol denotes an apparent lack of “river experts” and related oversight of the heavy earth moving equipment moving about our region’s streams during the Governor’s month-long emergency authorization. The Ausable River Association has spent years studying the Ausable. Similarly, the Boquet River Association on the Boquet. NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency know something about the behavior and morphology of rivers and floodplains. NYS DOT has environmental experts who know how to manage highway rights of way without taking a proverbial two by four to the environment. So, where are they? It was good to read that the Essex County Board of Supervisors is calling on these experts to help them assess and, if necessary, adjust the in-stream work as may be necessary. Governor Cuomo should have had his environmental experts in the field overseeing any stream work a month ago.
Yet, our state agency experts and field managers at DEC, APA, DOT still seem unable to respond in a coordinated, effective fashion, despite the fact that the Emergency Authorization issued by NYS DEC on that fateful Sunday, August 29 states: “This Authorization hereby allows emergency work to occur in navigable waters, streams and wetlands regulated under Environmental Conservation Law Article 15 and Article 24. The work hereby allowed must be immediately necessary to address an imminent threat to life, health, property, the general welfare and natural resources. All work carried out under this Authorization must be conducted in a minimally invasive manner, consistent with the goals of the restoration work. Non‐critical work is not allowed by this Authorization. All work must be undertaken in compliance with the conditions below.”
The emergency authorization and all conditions for working in the rivers is found at the DEC website. Based on what Dan Plumley of Adirondack Wild has observed, many of these conditions are being violated every day, but this assumes that the equipment operators understand the conditions, and that DEC is on-site to explain them, which it appears not to be.
There is probably a strong difference of opinion whether the work to date has been “minimally invasive” and necessary to address imminent threat. At the same time, the workers in the streams and their supervisors are doing all they can with the information and resources at hand. Which gets me back to Carol Treadwell’s quote: “natural stream dimensions based on a rapid assessment of natural bankfull, pool depth and riffle spacing. Measurements that could be done in a few hours and eliminate years of lost habitat.”
What is she talking about? I return to and quote from Dunne and Leopold’s Water in Environmental Planning (1978). Rivers construct their own floodplains, laterally migrate, and deposit lots of sediment in the process. Over a very long process of movement the river occupies each and every position on the flat valley floor, with the river moving laterally by erosion on one bank and deposition on the other. That is the meander that rivers want to achieve as their way of expending energy most efficiently. In fact, really straight stretches of river (absent human channelization) are rare “and seldom does one see a straight reach of length exceeding 10 channel widths.”
Yet, the river does not construct a channel large enough to accommodate flood stages. The bankfull stage referred to by Carol “corresponds to the river discharge at which channel maintenance is most effective, that is the discharge at which moving sediment, forming or removing bars, forming or changing bends and meanders, and generally doing work that results in the average morphologic characteristics of (river) channels.”
The authors Dunne and Leopold continue: “It is human encroachment on the floodplains of rivers that accounts for the majority of flood damage. Because it is a natural attribute of rivers to produce flows that cannot be contained within the channel, the floodplain is indeed a part of the river during such events. It is therefore important that planners know something about these characteristic features, and thus possibly counteract to some degree the emphasis placed on flood-control protection works. More logical is flood damage prevention by the restriction of floodplain use.”
In short straight sections in between meanders, stream pools and riffles alternate in consistent ways due to the creation of gravel bars on the convex side of a meander. “The distance between successive bars averages five to seven channel widths.” The alteration of steep (over the riffles) and less steep water (over the pools) is characteristic of rivers, as is the fact that meanders are steeper than the average straight section. I think this is the “pool-riffle spacing” Carol is speaking of. She may be suggesting that in-stream work should seek to maintain this kind of pool-riffle spacing, and ensure that stream slopes are not severely altered.
The worst thing to do, according to Dunne and Leopold, is to severely shorten a river channel with consequent change in channel gradient. “An imposed change of river slope can cause an instability quite irreversible in any short period of time, and is the most difficult change to which a stream must adjust.” It appears this is exactly what heavy equipment operators did to Johns Brook, and may be doing to other stream sections.
The authors’ conclusions may be ones which Governor Cuomo, DOT, DEC, APA, and Essex County should pay particular attention to: “Among the potential costs or disadvantages accruing from channel modification are: 1. Channel instability or effects of channel readjustment to the imposed conditions; 2. Downstream effects especially increased bank erosion, bed degradation or aggradation; 3. Esthetic degradation, especially the change in stream biota and the visual alteration of riparian vegetation, and of stream banks and channel pattern or form.”
Photos: Johns Brook, Keene, before and after channel dredging and grading by state-funded heavy equipment, photos by Naj Wikoff.
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