DEP halts reservoir releases as rains move in

Throughout the weekend, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection has been making emergency releases from three of its upstate reservoirs -- the Schoharie, the Ashokan and the Neversink -- in an effort to create voids that can absorb some of the expected floodwaters from Sandy's rainfall.

The DEP recently announced that on Monday morning, they stopped releasing water to the Schoharie and Ashokan. From the Neversink, which is currently at 100 percent capacity, the DEP continues to make releases of up to 123 million gallons a day.

The end of water releases from the Schoharie Reservoir is good news for the town of Shandaken, where the Shandaken Tunnel that carries water from the Schoharie Reservoir to the upper Esopus Creek is located. Officials in Shandaken have been worried that the combination of saturated groundwater, high winds, and up to 600 million gallons a day coming through the Shandaken Tunnel would be a disastrous one for the area.

Town supervisor Rob Stanley told the Watershed Post on Sunday that the town sent a formal request to the DEP to put a stop to the Schoharie releases.

"We have concerns with the impending rain we're going to get. Our groundwater is saturated, and cannot dissapate while the portal is running full-bore," he said. "[Ulster County executive] Mike Hein has spoken of this, and is adamant in support of the town of Shandaken."

But in the Schoharie Valley, where water spilling over the Gilboa Dam and the downstream New York Power Authority dam caused massive flooding during Irene, the DEP's water releases were welcome news. On Friday, Assemblyman Pete Lopez, whose territory includes Schoharie County, put out a press release taking credit for persuading the DEP to release water from the Schoharie ahead of Sandy's arrival:

“A year ago the majority of the counties I serve were devastated by Hurricanes Irene & Lee and the near failure of the Gilboa and New York Power Authority Dams,” said Assemblyman Pete Lopez. “Many residents are still struggling with the emotional and financial impacts and have expressed great concern with the projected path of Hurricane Sandy into our region. As a result, my office reached out to Governor Cuomo, the City of New York and the New York Power Authority to push for a solution that would drop the water levels in those facilities in advance of the storm to protect life and property.”

As of this morning, the Schoharie Reservoir was at 89.0% capacity, and the Ashokan was at 78.6% capacity. From a press release issued this afternoon by the DEP:

  • In preparation for the storm, DEP received emergency authorization from The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to release water from the Schoharie Reservoir. Although the reservoirs are not designed to act as flood control facilities, by taking this action DEP has created storage space within the Reservoir for storm run-off which will help to mitigate downstream flooding. As of this morning, DEP has stopped these releases. The Schoharie Reservoir is currently 89.0% full with a void of 390 million gallons.
  • DEC also authorized releases from the Ashokan Reservoir through the release channel into the lower Esopus Creek. As of this morning, DEP has stopped these releases. The Ashokan Reservoir is currently 78.6% full and has a 26 billion gallon void.