Waneta, Lamoka boaters fear low water
SCHUYLER COUNTY--Ever heard of "little lake level anxiety?" Terry Allison, president of the Lamoka-Waneta Lakes Association, said it is a fear experienced by boaters on small, shallow lakes where water levels can drop so low, boaters fear becoming literally "stuck in the mud."
Allison said this year, the fear is especially acute on Lamoka and Waneta, the twin lakes located at the border of Schuyler and Steuben Counties that are connected by a canal.
Three-and-a-half mile long Waneta Lake's average depth is 15 feet with many areas of shoreline being only a few inches deep. One-and-a-half mile long Lamoka's average depth is 20 feet and it too has an extremely shallow shoreline. That means for the more than 1,000 property owners, lake levels matter and inches count.
Last year, during the boating season, Allison said both lakes were unusually shallow. Rick Game lives on Waneta Lake year-round and said last summer even his low draw pontoon boat remained stuck in the mud at the end of his 20-foot long dock. "I had to get a shovel to dig it out to take ride," he said.
Last year, the spring water levels had been lowered an extra six inches to combat weed growth and to facilitate chemical treatment of the invasive species, Eurasian water milfoil. After the treatment, the water was supposed to rise again to normal levels. But instead, the drought happened, leaving muddy swamps around shorelines, some as wide as 40 feet, said Game.
This year, many fear history will repeat itself. The Facebook page "Friends of the Lamoka-Waneta Lakes Association" documents the ongoing dialogue. Some pray for just a few more inches of water. Others think the lakes should be left alone. Many, said Allison, think the lake association should control water levels. Property owners and boaters are watching and waiting in anticipation.
But few people, said Allison, really understand the complex reality of the legal agreement that determines how and why New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG) has the responsibility for controlling the levels of the two lakes.
She said a March 2004 agreement between NYSEG and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) specifically spells out the history of NYSEG's involvement with the lakes and their current responsibilities.
That agreement explains in March 1983 NYSEG created the Keuka hydro-electric project that included the two lakes, Mud Creek and the 183-foot long, 13-foot high Bradford dam. Impounding water at Bradford Dam reversed the flow northward where it was channeled through a "power canal" and penstock and into the powerhouse at Keuka Lake causing Waneta-Lamoka waters to flow northward.
Then in 1998, NYSEG stopped generating power because the cost of maintaining the project was too high. They closed the power canal and water flow resumed to a southerly direction toward the Bradford dam.
At that time, even though NYSEG no longer wanted to use the water, FERC held them responsible for maintaining water levels in the lakes within a very specific range measured in National Geodetic Vertical Datum (NGVD) commonly referred to as "sea level."
The reason for the requirement was to maintain recreational use of the lakes. The basics of that agreement still stand.
To that end, a few times a week or as often as necessary, a NYSEG representative travels from Geneva to the Bradford dam to hand-crank the two sluice gates open or closed allowing more or less water to discharge. This controls the lake levels.
Allison said the lake association works with him by providing daily updates. The ideal target is 1098.5 while 1099.2 is "flood stage." She said the usual range is 1097.5 to 1098.7.
For the last six months, Game has been providing these daily read-outs. He sends them to NYSEG and also posts them on Facebook. The readings and weather forecasts help NYSEG determine how to manage the outflow of water. Precision is required and no small amount of luck since weather can be unpredictable.
Despite the difficulties boaters faced last year, Allison and Game said they are pleased with NYSEG's management of the lakes.
Dennis Fagan, the Schuyler County legislator serving on the Lamoka-Waneta Lakes Association, agrees with Allison and Game. He said last year was an anomaly. He said this year neither weed treatments nor lowering of the lakes are planned. NYSEG is adjusting flows to account for spring runoff, keeping the lake within normal spring limits.
Fagan added he plans to avoid extremely low lake levels like last year, even in the spring. He said, "In the future, we will try not to de-water at all even for weed treatments. Mother nature can be unpredictable and it's best to plan for the worst."
Allison said she wants those who use the lakes to understand constant care and vigilance are necessary to maintain their health and viability. She is a former teacher and has been president of the lake association for about 10 years. She has been trying to educate people about how the lake levels are regulated. She said even though it takes a lot of patience and work, at the end of the day it's OK. "We all just love these little lakes," she said. "It's all worth it."