Should the Waccabuc dam level be regulated? Some people remember that up until some point in the past – probably the 1970’s or 1980’s – boards were used to regulate the level of the water held back by the dam at the outlet of Lake Waccabuc. A concern was expressed that the lake water level is lower than usual.
What do I think? Some of my reactions are factual, some personal opinions.
The original dam was probably built in the late 1800’s. Reference. Of course it may have been augmented or changed since then. The earthen and stone dam is about 60 feet long with a concrete spillway about 10 feet wide. I first took a serious look at the dam around 2003 or 2004. At that time any water control apparatus was non-functional. I also have taken lake level readings since 2010 and the lakes have gotten to about the same low level each year since then. Also, the dam is privately owned by the property owners, not by a lake association.
I am not sure what benefits would accrue from raising the lake level. I have no evidence to support the suggestion that the beavers would leave the lakes if the water levels were higher.
Much has changed since the last time boards were used to adjust the water level. NYS has recently passed dam regulations based on the height of the dam and the amount of water that is held behind it. http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/4991.html Right now the dam is unregulated but I do not know how much it would take to have it fall into a regulated category. I don’t know who would adjust the boards that would establish the water level nor what criteria would be used to make that determination, and how people would be prevented from taking their own actions based on their views. I don’t know if any liability for flooding would accompany such decisions. And I don’t know anything about the dam’s structural integrity.
I can think of one clear downside from raising the water level. Septic systems work best with a vertical gap between where the septic fields are located and the level of groundwater or saturated water. I suspect that many of the older septic systems around the lakes have a substandard distance compared to today’s codes. If the water level were raised, this distance to the water table would be further compromised, and it is likely to happen during higher use summer periods. Phosphorus from septic systems is easily transported in saturated soils and would be likely to plume into the lakes, providing more nutrients for weeds and algae. Septic systems are currently considered a leading contributor of phosphorus to the lakes and I would not want to do anything that might increase their negative influence.
For these reasons, my personal opinion is that we should not attempt to regulate the water levels at the dam. But that’s just my opinion.