Release of water on Raquette River may cause flooding, but officials say it's the 'responsible thing to do'; water near historic levels
Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - 4:44 pm

By CRAIG FREILICH

Fearing they would might otherwise lose control of flow on the Raquette River, Brookfield Renewable Power is releasing 8,500 cubic feet of water per second from as far upstream as Tupper Lake all the way to the river’s outlet into the St. Lawrence River.

Even though it is likely to cause some flooding downstream, “we feel it’s the responsible thing to do,” said Dan Parker, the power generation company’s supervisor for the Raquette River region.

The water flow, as measured at the Colton dam, is twice the average amount for this time of year, and is approaching historic levels, said Brookfield spokesperson Julie Smith-Galvin. The high water is being blamed on melting snow combined with above average levels of precipitation, she said.

And in a statement released late this afternoon, St. Lawrence County Director of Emergency Services Martin J. Hassett said his office is working closely with Brookfield officials. "Please use extreme caution during this period of increased flow," he said. "The public will see high flows along the entire length of the Raquette River for the next several days and should not go in, on or near the river during this period."

And the water release on the Raquette River will possibly continue into Friday as more rain is expected.

The weather forecast calls for potentially heavy rainfall in thunderstorms tonight and tomorrow, and Parker said the already high levels on the river’s reservoirs called for action now.

Speaking of the dams barely holding the river back as far upstream as Piercefield, just below Tupper Lake, and Carry Falls, Parker said “we don’t want to overtop them and lose control all the way down the river.

“Once we start spilling we’re at the mercy of mother nature – we’re no longer in control. What comes in will flow out,” Parker said.

He said while they can still spread the high flows out over time, that is what they will do.

The rate of release through South Colton is about 8,500 cubic feet per second, “and by the time it gets to Potsdam it could be another 800 to 1,000 cubic feet per second.”

The record high flow for this date at South Colton is 8,000 cubic feet per second. The highest flow on record there is 11,600 cubic feet per second.

Parker said they have “a lot of data” from their own gauges and U.S. Geological Survey gauges along the river on flows and what the effects of precipitation have meant in the past.

Parker says as it stands now, the release flows could continue “through the end of the day tomorrow and maybe into Friday” before they can start closing gates. And that could change if conditions change, he said.

Parker also wanted to reinforce the message of potential danger that Brookfield puts out every year at this time of year.

“There will be very dangerous conditions” along the Raquette while the normally heavy spring flows are amplified by the release of more water from upstream.

“Stay out of the water and stay away from low-lying areas,” Parker advised.

Referring to the trouble one local student got into in the river a few days ago, having to be rescued, Parker said that if the incident were occurring today, “there could have been a very different outcome.”