Flooding from abundant winter snow melt and heavy spring rains have gravely impacted the Adirondacks. Both the villages of Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake are under states of emergency. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Authority, is inspecting the damage, and County officials are estimating over $11.5 million in damages to Franklin County alone, with that estimate expected to rise.
The good news is that Upper Saranac Lake has not seen the same effect that Saranac Lake Village or Tupper Lake has. Water levels on Upper Saranac Lake are definitely higher than anyone can remember, as much as 10 to 12 inches higher than normal summer levels.
Some Saranac Lake Village and Tupper Lake roads and bridges remain closed due to the flooding, and some homes and business had to be vacated. Consequently there has been a large sandbagging initiative; fortunately USL has not seen a need for this. I’m happy to report that the outlet of USL at the Bartlett Carry Dam was designed with a wide spillway, shedding water fairly quickly. One of the reasons why Saranac Lake Village and Lake Flower are having issues is that the outlets of their dams are not very big and cannot release water as fast as it enters. Any concern about the USL dam’s integrity has been alleviated with the foresight of the Upper Saranac Lake Foundation’s effort in rebuilding the dam in 1994. The dam is in good shape, with the exception of some minor erosion and some general maintenance that will be done this summer when the water level is lower. The level of the lake is currently below the designated flood level. The water is a long way from flowing over the dams abutments. At its height, Saturday April 30th, the water flowing over the spillway was at 17 inches. That’s approximately 5 inches below the flood level. Even with continued heavy rain, the lake level has begun to generally recede, with minor fluxion now that the snow pack has diminished.
As required by the State, the USLF has a Dam Safety Inspection and Maintenance Plan, and an Annual Certification in place and implemented. The Emergency Action Plan is being developed in cooperation with an engineering firm and is expected to be completed by August this summer. Monitoring of the dam during this high water period occurs daily, and the engineer has visited it twice in the past two weeks to ensure the dam’s integrity.
An additional concern of the flooding is potable water. Often, water sources are compromised with flood waters. The Department of Health has advised all residents who have wells in flooded areas, especially people who live downstream from the Village of Saranac Lake’s wastewater treatment plant that their water may be unsafe to drink. The flooding from the Saranac River had breached the final clarifiers at the sewer plant, causing partially treated sewage to be released into the river. Fortunately this is down river from USL. Theoretically individual septic systems, such as the ones on USL, should not be affected since only septic waste and not storm water enter into septic tanks. Although we are below flood levels on the lake, I can’t say whether or not any wells were flooded over. If this did occur, the well should be disinfected and tested for bacterial contamination. If anyone is questioning their water source, the Health Department will provide assistance in testing wells if need be. Disinfecting a well is a fairly easy process and recommended by the Health Department, regardless of flooding, for seasonal wells that go unused for a long period of time.
Downstream communities are often susceptible to upstream influences. USL is also fortunate in that we are high in the Lake Champlain water shed, with few upstream impacts. Incidentally, Lake Champlain is at its highest water level ever recorded and continues to raise daily. The Lake Clear Dam, which is fully intact has a relatively small outflow and is the only man-made impoundment in the USL watershed. With heavy runoff and flood waters, water quality concerns increase. Surface water runoff brings with it additional nutrient deposits. Nutrients are transferred into the water from both natural and man-made sources. High nutrient levels can lead to algae blooms. Most of USL’s tributaries come primarily from undeveloped lands. But, we can still have an influential impact and the ability to help our lake when it comes to runoff. To help in flood prevention and nutrient loading, shore owners should consider a storm water and erosion prevention plan. This includes limiting impervious surfaces, such as paved roads or walk ways, utilizing vegetative barriers such as a rain garden to slow runoff, direct any runoff from impervious surfaces, such as roofs, away from the shoreline, and consider bank stabilization efforts to limit erosion. The Foundation will be continuing water quality testing through (CSLAP) Citizens Statewide Lake Assessment Program and testing by Adirondack Watershed Institute, as we have done in previous years. We test for an array of environmental indicators, results and analysis can be found on the Foundation’s web site – www.uslf.org. The testing will likely show some influences from the recent influx of water. Although Upper Saranac Lake has escaped the worst of the emergency, there are locations on the lake that have low areas and may have flooded; possibly some flooding of basements and some bank stabilization erosion. Most docks are submersed, and there is some dock damage. There have also been reports of boats, docks and various debris floating throughout the lake. Boaters should be diligent in keeping an eye out for floating objects.
Camp owners may want to have their camps,docks and boats etc. checked before arriving for the summer.