Upper Saranac’s water levels rose quickly following an early November storm that dropped nearly four inches of rain in a 24-hour period.
Within a day of the storm, the lake experienced over a three-inch increase, peaking at just under 10 inches flowing over the dam. This level is more typical of May during spring snow melt. Currently, the lake is 2.68 inches over the average water level for this time of year. While the past week was a big fluctuation for Upper Saranac Lake, this pales in comparison to other area lakes such as Long Lake and Indian Lake, where water levels varied by multiple feet.
Traditionally, Upper Saranac levels don’t fluctuate that fast due to the watershed size, level topography, and the amount of wetlands that retain precipitation. The Upper Saranac Lake Watershed — the area of land containing all streams and rivers that drain into the lake — exceeds 48,000 acres and includes Lake Clear and much of the St. Regis Canoe Area. While water levels generally follow precipitation trends, there is often a lag in time for the lake to rise following heavy rains. Evaporation is also a contributing factor in decreasing water levels — up to an inch a day when it’s sunny.
The Upper Saranac Foundation monitors the lake level. Recordings are based on the height, in inches, of the water flowing over the primary spillway of the Bartlett Carry Dam, located on the south end of the lake. The dam, owned by USF, maintains a relatively stable lake level. Contributing to this constancy is the wide 122-foot secondary spillway that sheds excess water quickly. The dam was constructed in a way that does not allow for flow rate control. There are no gates or control mechanisms in the dam.
Weekly recordings are kept by USF to compare current water levels with historic lows, highs, and averages. USF began collecting this data in 2011. The highest recorded level of water was May 1, 2011, with 16.8 inches of water flowing over the dam. The lowest level was October 16, 2016, with only .96 inches of water over the dam. This shows a total maximum variable water level of 15.84 inches. Generally, there is only 7.8-inch average variation from spring highs to late summer lows.
For more information and data on the lake level, visit the USF web page at: https://usfoundation.net/programs/water-quality/lake-level/