Abnormally dry weather brings low water levels to Hinckley reservoir

The latest drought monitor shows that parts of central New York are in the 'Abnormally Dry' category, experiencing drought conditions for the first time since 2018.

Posted: Jun 25, 2020 6:10 PM
Updated: Jun 25, 2020 6:20 PM

Hinckley Reservoir - Today, the latest drought monitor was issued showing that parts of Central New York are now in the Abnormally Dry category. Due to a big rainfall deficit and unusually daily hot temperatures, this can lead to some lingering water deficits affecting local lakes and canals including Hinckley reservoir.

“Hinckley Reservoir is about 8 1/2 feet below the 24 year running average for the state,” said Patrick Becher, Mohawk Valley Water Authority Executive Director.

“So it is unusually low right now, it's not a danger to the water system, but it did cause our communication protocol to kick in with the State Canal Corporation and the Power Authority and we've been actually doing weekly conference calls now for about seven weeks.”

Hinckley serves as the sole source of drinking water for 130,000 people in the Greater Utica area. Becher says that residents need not worry right now.

“We're watching it very carefully. At elevation 12/13 above sea level it's not a threat to the water system we still have plenty of water, all we need. It could go down another 20 feet before we're going to be very concerned but nobody wants to see that happen and so we're really hoping that the rain is going to come at some point and bring it back to somewhat of a normal level,” said Becher.

The last time New York experienced drought conditions was in the summer of 2018.

“This particular time now being a little bit different is mostly due to the COVID-19 shutdown,” said Becher. “Restaurants have been closed for a long time, hotels have been shut down, the college campuses are empty, so we’re actually seeing our water use down a little bit - revenue is also down - to a certain extent. That means were drawing less water from Hinckley than we typically would be. That’s probably the biggest difference between now and a couple of years ago during dry weather.”

For the month of June, Central New York has seen only .76 inches of rain - that's several inches below normal. Becher says that one day of rain will not be enough.

“The best case scenario is for a couple of days of rain and I say that because the ground is very dry so even if it rains for a few hours most of that water is not going to make it into the reservoir because it's going to get absorbed in the dryland that's in the watershed. So what we need is for the land in the watershed to get dampened enough that it will do some runoff so that the rain coming down across that almost 400 mi.² watershed will actually funnel down and make its way to the reservoir and begin to be rebound.”

Becher says that by Wednesday, he expects to be into the enhanced communication protocol which will bring other agencies into the fold such as the State Department of Environmental Conservation.

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