“We submitted our application last Monday or Tuesday, and it’s in the DEC’s hands, but we’ve had no word from them,” said town supervisor Rob Stanley. “We’re hoping and anticipating that they will approve it so we can do at least a limited stream channel modification or gravel extraction on the upper side of the Main Street bridge for about 600 feet.”
The application was based on a study by engineering firm Milone and MacBroom, whose services were paid for by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
“Their assessment was that this act would minimize or mitigate sludge at the moderate level of a 25-year flood,” said Stanley, referring to the classification of flood levels based on volumes of water that occur, on the average, every 5, 10, 25, 50, or 100 years. “The past two were near 50,” he added. “This will help up to the 25-year level. We don’t know what impact it will have on a 50-year flood. We still have to take a longer-term look at solutions. The engineers said it appears that the bridge is acting as a pinch point in the stream and impeding the flow of the Stony Clove.”
Stanley plans to meet with officials from the Ulster County Department of Transportation, which is responsible for maintaining the bridge, to see what can be done about renovating the bridge, possibly widening the abutments. “It shouldn’t be the local residents that have to foot the bill,” he said. “They’ll probably have to take the bridge down to do the work.”
One time fix
Meanwhile, he hopes the short-term solution will work for smaller flood events. He noted that the DEP found “no problems downstream. The flow downstream of the bridge is very good and is not impeded where the Stony Clove meets the Esopus,” just south of the Main Street area. “On the contrary, the resistance of water moving downstream lessens where it combines with the Esopus.”
Engineers have not yet gone further upstream to study flood damage in Chichester, which will be addressed later. “We will go into other areas,” said Stanley. “In Mt. Tremper, we have issues with gravel bars building up down there as well.”
Regarding the current application for digging the stream, he explained, “The DEC is not willing to support any idea of making this a routine thing. They prefer a one-time fix. But the nature of nature is that these are never one-time events. We hope a change to the bridge will address the problem long-term.”
Shandaken highway superintendent Eric Hofmeister estimates that the digging, once approved, will take less than a week. He said the county and state have offered to contribute crews and equipment to help the town highway department complete the job.++
“Working group” will discuss how to un-muddy the lower Esopus River
Representatives of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will meet with people from state and county agencies and community groups on Friday, January 14 at the Ashokan Center. Called a “working group,” participants will discuss what to do about muddy water in the lower reaches of the Esopus River, as a result of water releases from the city’s Ashokan Reservoir.
“We’re still getting used to how to communicate with each other,” said Mary McNamara, Woodstock resident and outreach coordinator of the Lower Esopus Watershed Partnership. She is organizing a bus tour on that Friday to show officials from DEP and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) what the chocolate-milk-colored lower Esopus looks like as a result of the releases from the reservoir.
McNamara explained that the water releases are designed to transfer turbid water from the reservoir’s west basin, the outlet for the city aqueduct, to the east basin, in order to prevent sediment from entering the city’s drinking water. However, the muddy spillover from the east basin creates problems in the lower Esopus, where it could harm fish populations, clog farm irrigation systems, and contribute to flooding, among other downstream impacts.
Due to complaints coming from local towns and environmental organizations, the DEP agreed to form the working group to figure out how to address the problem, which the agency says is mainly caused by turbidity coming from upstream, where creeks and streams pick up silt from the underlying clay soils. An increase in flooding has added to the concentration of suspended sediment in the water.
Although upstream stakeholders are not involved in the working group at this point, the issue is of relevance to Woodstock, says McNamara, as erosion along the Beaverkill Creek in Mink Hollow is a contributor to turbidity in the reservoir. The DEP is working on stream management in Woodstock and Shandaken in an effort to reduce erosion on tributaries.
Water releases from the Shandaken Tunnel, which conveys water into the upper Esopus from the city’s Schoharie Reservoir to the north, have also been blamed for turbidity in the upper creek. It is presently being evaluated and will be considered by the working group.
Political tensions between the city and upstaters add a charge to the conflict, but McNamara sees it as basically “an engineering problem. There’s a lot of complex science involved.” ++