SARANAC LAKE - The village of Saranac Lake opened the floodgates on the Lake Flower Dam even more Wednesday afternoon in an effort to bring down the water level in the lake and reduce pressure on the dam and the bridge that crosses it.
The floodgates were opened another 6 inches at 4 p.m., but village Manager John Sweeney said the effort wasn't sucessful. The water level over the dam spillway remained at 24 feet, 4 inches, he said.
"It didn't really do anything," Sweeney said. "It didn't work."
People perch on a bench in a flooded park in Saranac Lake today.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
The village opened the floodgates another 6 inches at 5 p.m. If that doesn't bring the water level down, Sweeney said the gates could be opened even further at 6 p.m.
Before the 4 p.m. dam release, village police and firefighters evacuated shoreline homes, businesses and parking lots along the Saranac River, primarily in the Dorsey Street area. The section of Main Street that crosses the dam, from River Street to Kiwassa Road, was also closed to vehicle and pedestrian traffic.
As news of the pending dam release spread through the village, crowds began to gather on the bridges that span the river. People were hoping to catch a glimpse of a surge of water coming down the river, but it didn't happen. The water rose slowly.
It was unclear when residents who had been evacuated would be able to return to their homes and when the closed section of Main Street would reopen.
Village officials say they have to release more water from Lake Flower because the state Department of Environmental Conservation is unable to control the flow of water upsteam, where it has two locks on the Saranac chain of lakes.
As of 2:45 p.m. today, a state of emergency had been declared in Saranac Lake.
Prior to that, residents along the Saranac River from the village to Union Falls were being warned that they may have to evacuate their homes if the Saranac River continues to rise.
Franklin County Emergency Services Director Ricky Provost told the Enterprise at 12:30 p.m. today that reverse-911 calls will be going out to residents of what he described as a potential "inundation area" in the Saranac River, below the dam on Lake Flower. That area stretches along the river, beginning in village and through the towns of Harrietstown, St. Armand and Franklin.
"We're doing a warning to tell people to be prepared to evacuate," Provost said. "We're going to do a reverse-911 call to the inundation area to alert those people that we're concerned about flooding and be prepared to move out of your house."
If an emergency evacuation order is issued, Provost said it will be done door-to-door, if possible.
The decision to issue the warning came minutes after DEC officials said they were no longer able to regulate the amount of water coming through its locks. Doug McCabe, a DEC conservation operations supervisor, said the water level at the Lower Locks, near Oseetah Lake, was 2 feet above the spillway.
"At the upper and lower locks, the water has breached the top of the doors," McCabe said. "We cannot control the water coming down from Upper to Middle to Lower Saranac."
Both Provost and McCabe spoke to the Enterprise from an emergency operations center that has been set up at the Saranac Lake firehouse, where county, DEC, village of Saranac Lake and town of Harrietstown officials were coordinating their response to the situation.
Water in many Adirondack waterways rose dramatically overnight when a series of thunderstorms dumped several inches of rain on the area. Many lakes, rivers and streams had already been swollen from melting snow and rain over the past two to three weeks.
Saranac Lake village Manager John Sweeney said the water level in Lake Flower climbed 9 inches overnight. Around 7 a.m. today, he said the water was 22.5 inches over the spillway at the Lake Flower dam. At that point, the village had the floodgates on the dam open 48 inches. By 11:30 a.m., Sweeney said the water was 23.4 inches over the spillway, and the village had opened the floodgates to 61 inches to try and accommodate the surge.
"It's the heavy weather," Sweeney said. "We had all the rain last night, which triggered it. We've also got continued snowmelt from the upper elevations."
Sweeney said he's concerned that the flood waters could continue to rise because the National Weather Service is calling for another 1 to 2 inches of rain in the next 24 to 48 hours.
"It's coming our way, and we're taking the necessary steps right now," Sweeney said.
The village is preparing for the possible closure of the Main Street bridge over the Lake Flower dam, though it hadn't been closed as of 12:30 p.m. Signs and barricades had been stockpiled in Riverside Park already.
Despite the rising waters, village officials said they've only received a few reports of flooded basements and buildings along the river, and no other damage.
Just downstream from the dam, several town of Harrietstown workers were filling sandbags and placing them at the back of the town hall, where water from the river had seeped into a room containing town records.
"There is a little getting in," said town Supervisor Larry Miller. "We're going to sandbag outside the windows."
At the Warehouse shopping plaza on Woodruff Street, located along the Saranac River, Mike and Gar Munn of J.M. Munn Business Machines came to work this morning to find their business flooded. By 10 a.m., about 4 inches of water filled the front part of the store, while the water was 6 to 8 inches high in the back, lower portion of the building. The Munns put copiers, boxes and anything valuable on wooden pallets to try and keep them dry.
"We've been in a state of standby anticipating this moment, and here it is," Mike Munn said.
Gar Munn, a local native, could only remember only one other time that the water in the river had reached this high, in 1994.
"We've been here since 1984, and this is only the second time we've seen it cause a problem like this," he said. "And this could get worse."
The river had also climbed over an embankment and spread into the plaza's parking lot. As the morning turned into afternoon, that pool of water was getting larger. At one point, Jim Minnie of Onsite Computer Service, which is also in the plaza, took out his canoe and paddled around the parking lot.