Spring Water

April 14, 2017

In like a lion out like a shark, March turned into April after some serious rain and snow

The first day of April was a Saturday, the first decent sunny day this year and so we went on a drive to go visit some used bookstores on the other side of the Hudson River that we hadn’t been to in a while.  People were outside everywhere we went, kids playing in the yards and in the streets, older folks with rakes and such cleaning up their properties, even a few runners and bicyclists.  After this cold and snowy winter and after several days of constant cold rain mixed with snow it seemed like everybody wanted to get out of their houses for a few hours.

On our way back to Albany on Route 23 I caught a glimpse of Clavarack Creek, so I turned around the car and had to be a tourist. The water was raging over an old dam.  To the left was an old mill house painted barn red leftover from when this was a cutting edge industrial facility in the 1800s. I didn’t have my camera but The Wife of course had her phone:

Clavarack Creek Seen From Route 23 Clavarack Creek Seen From Route 23

Still photos can’t quite convey the sheer power of a swollen rushing waterway, it’s thrilling to watch and kind of scary.  You stand there and feel thankful it stays where its supposed to and doesn’t rise up to get you.  It’s the power of the water that makes scenes like this extraordinarily beautiful.

The next day, Sunday, was also a nice day.  A neighbor told me that Cohoes Falls was running pretty hard, so I dragged the Wife out of the house to go see.  This is the second highest falls in New York State (behind Niagara) but since the early 1800s the water has been diverted off the falls first for navigation and later for power generation.  It’s only during a wet Spring like we’ve been having that you can see what the falls are supposed to look like.

Cohoes Falls, April 2017, Hydro Power Plant At Left Cohoes Falls, April 2017, Hydro Power Plant At Left

Holy crap, the falls were running.  Most of the time the second highest waterfall in New York State is a disappointing trickle, it’s been that way since most of the water that is supposed to cascade over the falls was diverted to enhance navigation in the first half of the 1800s.  Back in 2014 we saw the falls running at this time of year, but that was not as spectacular as this.

Cohoes Falls, North End, April 2017 Cohoes Falls, North End, April 2017

This had to be close to what the falls looked like when the first explorers saw it.  Like I’ve said before, when those pioneer guys were traveling into the wilderness by the river they must have admired the falls with awe for about twenty minutes and then cursed them mightily from then on.  I’ve read it took days to carry boats and belongings up the steep cliffs and through the wilderness just to get around these falls.

Cohoes Falls, South And Center End, April 2017 Cohoes Falls, South And Center , April 2017

The water is still diverted for navigation, but has also been diverted for power.  Over a hundred years ago that power was water wheels that turned the shafts inside the long defunct Harmony Mills clothing factories, buildings which today are apartments.  Currently the diverted water runs the five turbines of the School Street powerhouse that produce 38,800 kilowatts, enough to power 26.000 houses. That’s according to the helpful placard located at the falls overlook. 

The School Street powerhouse was built in 1915, but it hasn’t been running continuously.  In the late 20th Century the now thankfully dead and gone Niagara Mohawk Corporation took the power plant offline and wanted to fill the buildings with concrete so no one would ever be able to generate power at the falls again.  Why exactly they wanted to do such a nasty thing is a good question, apparently they didn’t want to be compelled to generate renewable energy and didn’t want anyone else to do so either.  Things like this is why corporations need to be barred from exercising any sort of political power.

The Cohoes Falls Overlook The Cohoes Falls Overlook

As we hung at the overlook for a spell a fair crowd came and went to look at the spectacle, maybe 50 or so people.  This overlook was built as a mitigation measure by the Canadian Corporation Brookfield, which started up the power plant again about ten years ago.  This was not done out of the goodness of their foul corporate hearts, it was the result of years of litigation by the City of Cohoes under then mayor John McDonald, who today represents Cohoes and downtown Albany in the State Assembly.  But all is well now, the plant is running and there’s that much less fossil fuel being burned into the atmosphere.

I had to browbeat The Wife into going to see the falls, but after we had seen enough of them she had perked up quite a bit and wanted to go see more rushing water.  So we drove back to Albany to the head of the Rail Trail on South Pearl Street to look at the Normanskill rapids.  She’s always looking for excuses to go walking, and since she spends a lot of time sitting in front of a computer barely moving I try not to discourage her.

We walked the trail the half mile or so uphill to the City line.  There were still pockets of snow in protected spots on the banks of the river.  Sure enough, when we got to the rapids the water was furious and frothing.  Why anyone would ever try to run these rapids any time of the year in any sort of rig is beyond me, but apparently some people do that.

Normanskill Rapids Along The Rail Trail, April 2017 Normanskill Rapids Along The Rail Trail, April 2017

The rapids are awesomely scary to look at when they are like this, I mean if you were to fall in your chances of survival are not so great. The Normanskill in Springtime is no joke, still pictures don’t quite convey that sense of deadly danger just out of reach.  Maybe this closeup can convey it a little better.  It churned this way nonstop:

Normanskill Rapids Along The Rail Trail, April 2017 Normanskill Rapids

Now, if you don’t live around here and didn’t experience Albany’s up and down winter this year, you might wonder where all this water came from.  For instance, in the middle of February while the Midwest was having temperatures in the 80s F we were hovering around freezing in the Northeast.  Besides the heavy rains that we had at the end of March we’d had a bit of snow a few weeks earlier:

View From My Front Door On March 14 View From My Front Door On March 14

Meanwhile while it snowed in Albany The Wife was in Southern California “for business reasons.”  As I understand it she did about one day’s work and spent the rest of the time lolling about with her friend, poking around high priced boutiques and checking out young guys in speedos on the beach.  The last few days she told me that she was unhappy because it had gotten a little too cool to go swimming. 

Then her plane was delayed a day because of the snowstorm here. It was just awful.  She complained to me “We are suffering though “bad weather” in Santa Barbara.  It is foggy, so I can’t see the ocean from the hotel window.”   I sent her some photos of the snow and she helpfully sent back a picture she took not far from where she was staying:

Terrible Weather In Santa Barbara Terrible Weather In Santa Barbara

One water issue that thankfully did not happen with all the rain and melting snow is that here in Albany the Beaverkill storm drain line did not overflow and flood the City.  Perhaps the mitigation measures meant to ease the amount of water that this line carries into the Hudson River have been working, it’s hard to say.  In any case I didn’t hear any reports of flooding in the last month on this overloaded drain line.

One notable attempt to deal with the problem has recently happened in Lincoln Park.  Off MLK Boulevard across from the community gardens just above the swimming pool a private contractor was hired by the City to dig into the pavement.  Albany Water Commissioner Joe Coffey told me they were looking for a a manhole to an auxiliary line to the Beaverkill that had not been seen by anyone for over a hundred years.

Filling In The Hole In Lincoln Park, Looking For A Long-Lost Drain Line Filling In The Hole In Lincoln Park, Looking For A Long-Lost Drain Line

The dig was unsuccessful, all they found was an electrical conduit which they already knew was there.  Mr. Coffey told me there would be no more fishing expeditions for this line, his next plan is to send a robot with a camera up the line from down the hill near the pool. Meanwhile the private contractors sure seem to have taken their time filling in the hole, it’s been weeks and as of this writing the hole is still exposed.  The City guys usually fill their holes and put down temporary pavement in like three days.

But all this work on the Beaverkill doesn’t mean we didn’t have some problems this past month.  The Beaverkill is a “combined sewer overflow” which means that although it is primarily a street drain it also can receive raw sewage from buildings, mainly from the Park South neighborhood and Albany Medical Center, or possibly the federal Veteran’s Administration plant behind Hackett Public Middle School.  But the sewage can originate from anywhere between Washington Park Lake (which is the Beaverkill exposed) all the way to the Big C Pipe under the U-Haul building which dumps into the Hudson.

On the afternoon of March 17 the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation reported that 100,000 gallons of raw sewage discharged from the Big C.  The reason given was “Weather Conditions: Snow Melt Event” which I respectfully call pure bullcrap.  That much discharge of raw sewage into the street drain was not an accident, that had to be intentional.  I guess we’ll never know.

The Newly Refurbished Bike Path In Albany At The Beginning Of April (Photo: ABC) The Newly Refurbished Bike Path In Albany At The Beginning Of April (Photo: ABC)

The next weekend we checked out the boat launch in Albany, the water was indeed high, drowning the boat launch and the docks.  At the beginning of April the Albany Bicycle Coalition (ABC) had reported that the Hudson had overflowed onto the new green pavement bike trail that the City of Albany had constructed downtown and onto low spots in North Albany.  But by the time we went looking the water had receded and the bike path was clear, being used by a variety of people enjoying the warm weather.

Other than this quick wash the Hudson has not gone over it’s banks this year in Albany, that is because Great Sacandaga Lake is being used again for flood control.  In recent years the lake was not being used for flood control but was being kept intentionally high for the benefit of private power generators (owned by Brookfield, the same corporation as at Cohoes Falls.)  This caused major flooding in Albany, most notably in 2005 and twice in 2011, but that problem seems to have ended.  As of the middle of April the lake is about three feet under capacity, which means that once it is filled the Hudson should be down enough to handle the outflow from the lake.  

And we saw that the boat launch was mostly covered with water.  I’m ready to throw my kayak into the Hudson but with the water still colder than 50 degrees I’m not going to do that yet.  I suppose I shouldn’t complain, we’re probably in for a long hot Global Warming summer and I’ll have plenty of opportunities to paddle.  So like everyone else I’ll just have to be patient and hope we have warmer water by May.

High Water On The Hudson At The Albany Boat Launch High Water On The Hudson At The Albany Boat Launch