The Times
  • Lower Hinckley water levels concern some in Herkimer Co.

  • The boat launches on Hinckley Reservoir are closed.

    Downstream, West Canada Creek sometimes has low water levels that strand canoes and kayaks on the creek’s bedrock.

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  • The boat launches on Hinckley Reservoir are closed.
    Downstream, West Canada Creek sometimes has low water levels that strand canoes and kayaks on the creek’s bedrock.
    Despite this, officials say there’s plenty of water for all users, with reservoir levels currently at 1,211.35 feet — about five feet below average for this time of year.
    “We’re continuing to monitor the water level,” said Dick Goodney, director of engineering for the Mohawk Valley Water Authority. “(The reservoir is) lower, but it’s designed to be lower.”
    The reassurances from the water authority, however, don’t sit well for those who use the creek for recreational purposes, including fishing and boating, and it’s left some officials questioning the recent agreement between the state Canal Corporation and the water authority.
    In 2007, water levels fell to 1,188 feet, threatening the Mohawk Valley’s drinking supply. At the time, state agencies couldn’t agree whether there was a crisis let alone how to address it.
    The recent agreement between the Canal Corp. and the water authority determined the corporation would operate the reservoir above 1,195 feet and agreed to allow the authority access to 32 million gallons of water a day.
    The authority currently averages 20 million gallons a day.
    Goodney said it was agreed that 1,195 feet is the “bottom level of comfortable flow” that the reservoir can operate.
    The Canal Corp. did not immediately respond to emailed questions.
    Herkimer County officials met with state Assemblyman Marc Butler, R-Newport, Wednesday to discuss the agreement and have questioned what impact increasing the authority’s allotment would do to those downstream.
    “Our concern is if you take 10 million gallons more a day, what does that do to the West Canada that’s struggling already,” county Administrator James Wallace said.
    Butler expressed frustration with the agreement that he said the county has been left out of.
    “This is supposed to be a partnership,” he said. “If they were drawing more water, what condition would that leave Herkimer County in?”
    He added that it’s important to gain measurements of the inflow and outflow for the reservoir as well as find out the original capacity.
    Brian Kellogg, president of the West Canada Watershed Alliance group, agreed.
    “The problem is we don’t know how much water is coming in, how much is going out and where it’s going,” he said.
    Water authority officials said the reservoir is operating at 400 cubic feet per second, meaning about 260 million gallons of water come out each day.
    A motion by the Herkimer County Planning and Development Committee Wednesday night passed 5-1 in favor to oppose the agreement between the Canal Corp. and the water authority, as well as to contact the state Department of Environmental Conservation to ask them to oppose too.
    Page 2 of 2 - Michael Papp, owner of West Canada Creek Campsites in Poland, said the levels are creating issues for canoe and kayak trips during the day.
    “I won’t even take them out until later in the day because the water level is too low,” he said. “It’s cut down that business a bit.”
    Lower levels also can threaten trout fishing, Papp said, noting the 2007 water crisis.
    Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman Steve Litwhieler said decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, and the current water levels are “nowhere close” to those in 2007.
    “When it was closed before, (water flow) fell below 160 cubic feet per second,” he said. “It made the fish particularly vulnerable.”
    Litwhieler said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license dictates that’s the amount required to be released for aquatic life purposes.
    “Low water means increased temperature, and increased temperature means decreased oxygen,” he said. “This creates problems for the trout.”
    For longtime fly fisherman John Sweeney of John’s Guide Service in Middleville, that means fewer opportunities to catch fish.
    “It’s this way every summer,” Sweeney said. “It’s a little earlier this year. I don’t think it’s actually hurting the fish yet. Closer to Herkimer, the water temperature may be about 80 degrees, and that’s pretty critical.”
    Sweeney said he’s been fishing on the West Canada since 1959 and has seen changes on the creek over the years.
    “It’s primarily because of the change in water levels,” he said. “It’s become a bit more difficult, but it’s still a really good river. We just have to adapt to the changes.”

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