FLOOD PROTECTION DAM TURNS 90
Anniversary of Devastating 1913 Flood Marked as Conklingville Dam Reaches Major Milestone
HADLEY – On March 27, 1930, the gates of the Conklingville Dam were closed, and the Great Sacandaga Lake began to fill, marking the completion of this major flood protection project nearly 17 years to the day that a devastating flood impacted New York’s Capital Region, including the cities of Troy and Albany, causing a major infrastructure and public health emergency. Today, the Hudson River – Black River Regulating District continues to maintain and operate the Conklingville Dam, providing important flood protection benefits to area communities.
Known as the Great Flood of 1913, catastrophic flooding from the Midwest to the East Coast in late March, 1913 resulted in a staggering loss of life, making it the second-most deadly flood in U.S. history. Within weeks of the flood’s crest in Albany on March 28th, a typhoid epidemic caused by the contamination of Albany’s public water supply by flood waters started to sweep through the city. The impacts of this historic flood helped spur New York’s leaders to construct a major flood protection reservoir – known today as the Great Sacandaga Lake – by constructing the Conklingville Dam on the Sacandaga River in the Town of Hadley, Saratoga County. Since the dam’s completion on March, 27, 1930, the Great Sacandaga Lake – New York State’s largest reservoir – has been continuously providing important flood protection benefits to downstream communities for 90 years, primarily in the spring when rainfall and snowmelt typically combine to increase the risk of flooding.
“We are privileged to be carrying on the legacy of visionary New Yorkers who, nearly a century ago, undertook this important public work for the safety of residents in downstream communities like Fort Edward, Mechanicville, Troy, Waterford, Cohoes, Green Island, and Albany,” Mark Finkle, Chair of the Regulating District, said. “The Regulating District’s dedicated staff is committed to continuing to provide this protection through vigilance and sound water management for another 90 years and beyond.”
“The Conklingville Dam is a reminder of what is in our DNA as New Yorkers,” John Callaghan, Executive Director of the Regulating District, said. “We see a problem, we fix it. We need a dam for flood protection, we build it. And as faithful stewards of this critical flood protection infrastructure – we are committed to maintaining and operating it in the century ahead to help keep area residents safe.”
“The important storage the Great Sacandaga Lake provides thanks to the Conklingville Dam benefits downstream communities each and every year, lowering crests during flooding events by as much as several feet during severe flooding,” Robert Foltan, Chief Engineer of the Regulating District, said. “Just months ago, following the Halloween storm, the reservoir stored 4.16 billion cubic feet of water on November 1, preventing the Hudson River from reaching major flood stage from Hadley to Fort Edward, and preventing serious flooding-related impacts in other downstream communities.”
While the 1913 flood helped build support for flood protection measures, the idea of creating storage reservoirs to dam Hudson River tributaries for both flood protection – and to provide a reliable flow of water for mills during the drier summer months – was a concept that had been discussed for decades. But the 1913 flood set things in motion, and the State Legislature approved an amendment to the State’s constitution allowing up to 3 percent of the state forest land in the Adirondacks to be inundated for new flood control reservoirs. The voters approved the measure, known as the Burd Amendment, in the November 4 election that year, and the subsequent 1915 Machold Storage Act provided for the establishment of “river regulating districts.” The Hudson River Regulating District was formed in 1922 and construction of the Conklingville Dam, designed by the Regulating District’s first Chief Engineer Edward Haynes Sargent, began in 1927.
Today, the Great Sacandaga Lake provides significant economic benefits to Saratoga and Fulton County communities along its shores, and quality of life benefits to area residents. An access permit system allows adjacent properties owners recreational access to the 29-mile-long reservoir, which provides innumerable ecological benefits as well.
The construction of the Conklingville Dam and creation of the Great Sacandaga Lake remains one of the most ambitious and consequential public works project ever undertaken in the area. The story of its construction was told in the 2017 documentary film Harnessing Nature: Building the Great Sacandaga, produced by the Great Sacandaga Advisory Council.
About the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District
The mission of the HRBRRD, a public benefit corporation of the state of New York, is to protect public health and safety by regulating the flow of waters in the upper Hudson River and the Black River. The Black River and Hudson River Regulating Districts were formed by the New York State Legislature in 1919 and 1922, respectively, to regulate water flows within those river basins and reduce flooding. The two districts were combined in 1959. As part of its mission, the HRBRRD maintains five reservoirs in upstate New York, including the Great Sacandaga Lake, New York State’s largest reservoir.