Some local officials say the Gray Reservoir could have lessened problems at Hinckley Reservoir if the Mohawk Valley Water Authority didn’t tear down the Gray Dam in 2002.
After the 2007 water crisis at Hinckley Reservoir, a new question looms large: Would Gray Dam have made a difference?
Some local officials said the Gray Reservoir could have lessened problems at Hinckley Reservoir if the Mohawk Valley Water Authority didn’t tear down the Gray Dam in 2002.
But water authority Executive Director Patrick Becher said the 1.2-billion-gallon and almost-never-used Gray Reservoir would have had only a minimal impact on the water level in the 25-billion-gallon Hinckley Reservoir last summer.
“The reservoir would have stopped dropping for about three days,” Becher said. “And then the water level would have continued dropping after that.”
Built in 1905, the dam was designed to supplement the water supply when the predecessor agency to the Mohawk Valley Water Authority was taking water from the West Canada Creek, Becher said.
‘Would have helped’
The state Canal Corp. sees things differently.
Without Gray Dam providing compensating flows of water for Hinckley Reservoir, the state Canal Corp.’s job of managing Hinckley Reservoir becomes more difficult, canal hydrologist Howard Goebel said.
He spoke during a recent meeting of the Hinckley Reservoir working group, which Gov. Eliot Spitzer created to look into the water crisis.
Canal officials are supposed to follow an operating diagram, Goebel said.
“Failure to provide compensating reservoirs doesn’t allow this to be followed,” he said.
Millicent Rader-Harris, a Utica resident and member of the Mohawk Valley Water Authority Board of Directors, said Gray Reservoir could have been useful last summer – especially if its size had been expanded as original plans called for.
“It definitely would have helped because there could have been compensating water that could have been used,” she said.
Rader-Harris became involved with the Hinckley Reservoir issue in 1992 and since has turned her house into a library of documents dealing with the water debate, she said.
But Becher said Gray Reservoir would have done little to help.
The Black Creek, which is between the former Gray Dam location and Hinckley Reservoir, still carries into Hinckley Reservoir most of the water Gray Reservoir would have held, he said.
In the middle of the summer, about 400 million gallons of water are taken per day from Hinckley Reservoir. This means the 1.2 billion gallons Gray Reservoir used to hold would have been emptied in about three days, Becher said.
Gray Reservoir wouldn’t refill within the same summer, he said.
Frank Montecalvo, a former state Department of Environmental Conservation administrative law judge, said he can’t say Becher’s predictions are technically wrong, but he said the bigger picture needs to be considered.
“I think the destruction of Gray put the whole reservoir in kind of a precarious situation,” Montecalvo said.
Montecalvo has a background in earth science and has been interested in the Hinckley Reservoir since 1974, when there was consideration of using it to provide water to New York City, he said.
Herkimer County Administrator James Wallace said he understands a point Becher has made that the dam wasn’t utilized in the past.
“However, this is a situation where it probably could have been used,” Wallace said.
What should be done now?
Rader-Harris says there’s only one logical step.
“The Gray Dam needs to be restored,” she said.
Funding could be obtained by local state representatives and through grants, she said.
Becher said he doesn’t think that needs to be done.
“From our standpoint, it’s totally unnecessary,” he said. “It would be a colossal waste of public money.”
Such a project could cost as much as $12 million, Becher said.
Montecalvo said he thinks water authority officials will have to either rebuild the dam or pay the state for water access if they plan to expand the authority’s services.
Water authority officials hope to gain access to as much as 48.5 million gallons per day from Hinckley Reservoir to provide water to more people in Herkimer and Oneida counties.
“They got themselves into this problem, and it’s going to be a lot harder to get out of it,” Montecalvo said.
Timeline of Hinckley Reservoir and the old Gray Dam:
1905: Gray Dam built to provide compensating flows for water that the Mohawk Valley Water Authority’s predecessor agency was taking from the West Canada Creek.
1907: A test release of 500 million gallons of water from Gray Reservoir produced results that were not noticeable in the West Canada Creek. It would be the only time Gray Dam was ever used.
1915: Hinckley Reservoir came into service.
1920: Operating diagram known as The Rule Curve details suggested outflows from Hinckley Reservoir over the course of the year.
1996: Gray Dam had rusted mostly open. The state Department of Environmental Conservation determined the dam to be dangerous. Also that year, the Utica Water Board transitioned into the Mohawk Valley Water Authority.
2002: Gray Dam dismantled.
2007: Hinckley Reservoir falls to within 3 feet of sparking a water crisis in the Mohawk Valley. The water authority says keeping Gray Dam would not have made a difference, but state Canal Corp. officials question this stance.