By HEATHER NELLIS
Local officials say the state's announcement Thursday about a new $8.5 million flood warning system will help fill gaps in the existing system, and allow for better planning and response.
The system will encompass three watersheds, including the Mohawk River Basin. It will use weather forecasts, precipitation gauges, and newly installed and existing stream gauges to fine-tune flood warnings, which will be integrated with online maps to show predicted areas and depths of flooding.
"This is something we've been asking for a very long time," said Montgomery County Emergency Management Director Rick Sager. "The gauges in place work well, but there aren't enough of them, which is why there are limitations on the system we have."
"That's exactly what we need, so we can watch the levels, and make good predictions," Fultonville Mayor Robert Headwell said.
Sager said the nearest gauges are at Little Falls, and then Schenectady.
In lieu of such equipment in Montgomery County, the county dispatches longtime, experienced volunteers to literally sit and watch the creek and river levels during high-water events.
"We send them to the same spots, and they are so experienced, they can tell, for instance, when the water hits a certain level on a particular tree, or a certain spot on the bank, when it becomes a problem," Sager said.
More gauges will provide not only for more accurate data, but responders will get out of the line of fire.
"We could eliminate having to send people out to watch the levels, and it takes away the chance of someone being stranded by the river," Sager said. "We can instead have them stationed in front of a computer screen."
He'd like to see at least two added in Montgomery County -- one at the confluence of the Schoharie Creek and the Mohawk River at Fort Hunter, and one closer to the western county line.
"Those two would be the first I would like to see, but I think the ultimate goal should be one at every [canal] lock," Sager said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the system is geared toward 27 counties "where flooding has long been a recurring problem." More than 13,000 square miles will be covered.
Since 2006, three separate flooding events resulted billions of dollars worth of damages to private property and public infrastructure. An advanced early warning system can reduce flood-induced property loss by upward of 15 percent, with even more important benefits to human life and health, a news release said.
The Canal Corp. board approved the project at its Sept. 11 meeting. It's contingent on approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The Canal Corp. has designated Riverside Technology Inc. and its sub-consultants to lead the effort "because of their global flood forecasting and extensive local hydrology and hydraulic experience," a news release said.
The state has submitted an $8.5 million Hazard Mitigation Grant Proposal to FEMA for the funding.
Once approved, the Canal Corp. will manage the project in coordination with state and federal partners, including the Thruway Authority, Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Homeland Security, National Weather Service, and United States Geological Survey.