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NY Looking for Proposals to Rehab 91-Year-Old Conklingville Dam

Mon September 27, 2021 - Northeast Edition

Water poured over the spillway at the Conklingville Dam in Hadley, which forms the Great Sacandaga Lake, in this 2019 photo.
Water poured over the spillway at the Conklingville Dam in Hadley, which forms the Great Sacandaga Lake, in this 2019 photo.

The Upstate New York dam built to create the Great Sacandaga Lake in 1930 is likely to get a major rehabilitation project within the next few years.

The state announced Sept. 21 that it will seek proposals for engineering and oversight for work that would start in late 2023 at the earliest. The current state budget allocated $20 million for the project and more will be appropriated if needed, Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a news release.

The 95-ft.-tall Conklingville Dam across the Sacandaga River in the town of Day creates a 42-sq.-mi. lake containing up to 37.7 billion gallons of water drained from roughly 1,000 sq. mi. of the southern Adirondacks.

It is operated by the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District, a state agency.

John Callaghan, the district's executive director, told the Schenectady Daily Gazette on Sept. 22 that the dam is solid and up to modern standards. Nonetheless, it is showing its age.

Some structures built to the specifications of their era, even if they do not deteriorate, become inadequate or obsolete with the passage of time as standards are updated, he explained to the news source. But nearly a century later, the Conklingville Dam is not one of them.

"Here we have a dam that holds up very well even when viewed in the light of modern dam safety," Callaghan noted.

He regards the dam not as a redesign project, but a maintenance project.

The Daily Gazette reported that as the Great Sacandaga Lake is a recreation destination and regional resource, the Callaghan's agency hopes that no unusual drawdown of the lake's water level will be necessary to complete the overhaul. However, that will be determined by the extent of work identified as necessary in the engineering assessment.

Improvements to be made at the dam include:

  • Foundation and concrete structural repairs to minimize and eliminate leakage through the rock base and at the rock-concrete joints.
  • The replacement of deteriorating concrete on all concrete surfaces.
  • Repair and replacement of spalling and damaged concrete along the dam's wing wall, the outlet channel and tailrace structures.
  • The original low-level Dow valve outlets will be replaced with modern outlet valves.

"Our hope and even our tentative plan is to do the work without any disruption or change to normal operating protocols," Callaghan said.

Major Rehab will Be the Dam's First

This will be the first comprehensive overhaul of the Conklingville Dam in its lifetime, he added. Previous work has been limited to specific components, and some concrete work was done in the 1980s and 1990s, according to the Daily Gazette.

The dam's construction came about in the wake of the Great Flood of 1913, which inundated riverfront communities in Albany and Rensselaer counties and sparked a typhus epidemic in its aftermath. Together, the dam and the Great Sacandaga Lake were designed as a flood control measure.

When heavy rain or snowmelt causes the Sacandaga River to swell, the dam can keep much of that water from entering the Hudson River and threatening downstream communities. It is then gradually drained down the rest of the year to create room for the next year's snowmelt.

In a news release, Hochul juxtaposed the floods of a century ago against the modern-day series of severe weather events that are causing havoc of their own.

"We are seeing the reality of climate change here in New York and across the country year after year, and it is no longer acceptable to simply hope for the best while failing to make the necessary investments in public safety and resiliency," she said. "We need to make smart, strategic investments in critical infrastructure like the Conklingville Dam and other flood protection infrastructure without delay as part of a comprehensive strategy to protect our communities and New Yorkers."

"This summer the Great Sacandaga is a bit of a yo-yo," added Callaghan, referringt to the heavy rains in July. "That is a storage reservoir doing its job. It takes the peaks and the valleys out of the downstream flow."

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