At 91 Years Young, What Does the Future Hold for Conklingville Dam?

The Great Sacandaga Lake is known for its beauty and inviting waters, so much so that it is often mistaken for a natural lake, rather than the man-made storage reservoir that it is. As many readers know, Great Sacandaga Lake was formed by “damming” the Sacandaga River at Conklingville. Completed in 1930, the 95-foot-high dam was constructed by the then-Hudson River Regulating District largely in response to catastrophic flooding in 1913 in the Capital Region which impacted Albany and other riverfront communities like Waterford, Cohoes, Watervliet, Rensselaer, and Troy. Known as the “Great Flood of 1913” this event triggered severe infrastructure damage and a public health emergency, prompting calls for a major flood control project to protect riverfront communities, setting in motion the eventual construction of Conklingville Dam and creation of Great Sacandaga Lake.

For 90 years, in addition to providing significant recreational and economic benefits to Fulton and Saratoga County communities along its banks, the operation of the Great Sacandaga Lake has provided flood protection to these and other communities downstream of the reservoir by storing water during periods of heavy inflow, such as the spring runoff. Like anything, or anyone, at 90 years of age, Conklingville Dam – though in good health overall – has begun to show its age. The dam has been well maintained by Regulating District over the years, and some initial capital projects – including concrete repairs to the dam’s ice sluice structure – have already been completed. But more work remains to be done.

In 2017, the Regulating District engaged Schnabel Engineering to develop a plan to address the 90 years of “wear and tear” at the dam and to ensure it can reliably and safely perform its function for another 90 years. A comprehensive field exploration program which included various physical and topographic surveys, laser scanning, drone photogrammetry, thermal imagery, 3D sonar bathymetry, underwater ROV video, geologic reconnaissance and field mapping, geotechnical/rock coring, packer testing, concrete coring, laboratory testing and analysis, surficial and downhole geophysics, and piezometer installations was completed in 2019. The data collected through this effort will ultimately dictate final design for a large-scale structural rehabilitation at the site, including the specific scope, cost, and time frame for the work.

Concurrent with collection of this data, the Regulating District has worked closely with its colleagues in State government to make the case for a large investment in the project. These efforts yielded dividends earlier this year when a $20 million initial appropriation was included in the State’s adopted budget. The Regulating District is now working closely with the New York State Office of General Services to identify the scope of work, and to select an engineering consultant to provide final design and construction inspection services.

Preliminarily, work at the dam, which would begin in 2023 at the earliest, may include:
  • foundation and concrete structural repairs to minimize and eliminate leakage through the rock base and at the rock-concrete interface, and the removal and replacement of deteriorated concrete on all concrete surfaces;
  • replacement and repair of and damaged concrete along wing walls, outlet channel, and tailrace concrete structures;
  • replacement of original low level "Dow valve" outlets with modern outlet valves that can be remotely operated; and
  • structural enhancements/ modifications to some sections of the dam itself.

Though it is possible that these repairs could necessitate temporary changes to water levels on Great Sacandaga Lake in 2023 or 2024, those changes would be planned for outside of the summer boating season and would need to be consistent with the Regulating District’s mission of flood protection and flow augmentation, and in compliance with the Regulating District’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license. Importantly, it has not yet been determined whether any changes at all to normal operating protocols would be required to facilitate this work. If final design for the project dictate that temporary adjustments to normal levels will be necessary, the Regulating District anticipates being able to communicate these changes and work with residents and stakeholders to identify and mitigate any impacts a year in advance.

For now, the good news is that the State of New York has made a significant financial commitment to moving this important work forward, and professionals at the Regulating District and Office of General Services are working closely together to make sure the project is done right, and with as little impact/ disruption as necessary. These major improvements to the Conklingville Dam will help ensure that the Great Sacandaga Lake can continue to provide flood protection to communities in Warren, Washington, Saratoga, Rensselaer, and Albany Counties - while providing significant recreational, economic, and ecological benefits and regulated flows for the production of renewable hydroelectric power at downstream facilities - for the next century.