All of Montgomery County, most of Schoharie County and parts of Albany, Delaware, Fulton, Greene, Hamilton, Herkimer, Lewis, Madison, Oneida, Otsego, Saratoga and Schenectady counties in New York State are affected by the Mohawk River Watershed. The Schoharie Reservoir, which is one of the reservoirs that supplies water to New York City, is also within this watershed.
Severe flooding throughout the watershed over the past few years has caused deep concern for the communities affected and, as a result, a group of concerned citizens joined together to form the Mohawk River Watershed Coalition (MRWC).
Members of the MRWC write grants, conduct experiments and research on water quality in the watershed district, and host community forums to answer questions and raise public awareness.
MRWC Vice-Chair Peter Nichols works with the Schoharie County Soil and Water Conservation District. Nichols recently spoke at a forum held at SUNY Cobleskill, where students there presented information on experiments conducted in streams across Schoharie County and beyond, and a Management Plan for the watershed was presented.
“The coalition formed in 2009 and subsequent Management Plan for the Mohawk River Watershed was the brainchild of Nerw York State Ag and Markets and Montgomery County Soil and Water Conservation District,” reported Nichols. “The funding for the plan came out of the New York State Department of States Environmental Protection Fund Local Waterfront Revitalization Program for the years 2009-2010. The total project cost was $786,889 with 50 percent of that coming from in-kind services from local soil and water districts in the 14 counties represented.”
Nichols said the plan is now near completion and the Coalition has “rolled out public forums so the public has an opportunity to learn about, and comment on the plan’s contents.”
Mayor Linda Holmes of the Village of Cobleskill was in attendance at the forum and asked questions pertaining to the plan and potential grant opportunities. “It would have been great to have more involvement from local leaders,” said Nichols. “I feel that most folks in Schoharie County feel removed from the Mohawk Watershed, since it seems so far away. Many don’t understand that there are tremendous economic opportunities surrounding our water resources. The plan can be a conduit to grants that can aid communities with flood issues, sewage and storm water infrastructure upgrades, watershed development grants, assistance to farmers with nutrient management issues, and education and outreach funding. The list is endless.”
In addition to procuring funding to write the plan, the Coalition has secured funding in the 2013 DOS EPF for Phase 1 implementation of the Management Plan. “This is providing 50 percent of the $967,250 required to conduct a Flood Study of the entire Schoharie Creek in Greene, Schoharie, Montgomery, Albany, and Schenectady counties, restore streams in the Oriskany Creek Watershed in Oneida and Fulton Counties, and combat invasive species in Saratoga, Hamilton, Albany, and Fulton Counties.”
Nichols reported the Coalition has also recently received a $71,000 grant from DEC’ s Environmental Protection Fund enabling them to hold 10 training seminars throughout the Mohawk Watershed in Post-flood Emergency Stream Intervention. “This program teaches contractors and local officials how to work responsibly in a stream after a flood event. The curriculum focuses on stream work in a scientifically responsible manner, which ultimately prevents not only unnecessary destruction of stream habitat, but unintended spending of tax payer dollars when the streams have to be reworked soon after because of a rash decision by an unwary contractor.”
Experiments performed by students at SUNY Cobleskill under the tutalage of professors and S&WCD staff have shown that an abundance of aquatic life has suffered from the watershed.
Eric Malone is a student who has been working diligently with a team performing experiments and collecting data. “This project looked at changes in stream ecology after the devastating floods caused by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in the early Fall of 2011. The State University of New York at Cobleskill’s Fisheries and Wildlife program had collected data on the water quality, fish populations and aquatic insect community for several years prior so we had an understanding of what condition the streams were in before the floods. What was uncovered during surveys six months after the flood in 2012 was eye opening to say the least!” stated Malone.
Malone reported downstream sections were extremely degraded and water quality, fish and aquatic insects had all significantly worsened. “While much of this was the results of the intense flooding, the majority of this damage was caused by farmers and contractors who used heavy machinery to channelize the streams to drain water from farm lands. These sections of streams did not have a riparian zone to help protect the stream and the water levels rose rapidly and caused catastrophic flooding to the farms and surrounding communities.”
Malone credits Professor Mark Cornwell of SUNY Cobleskill and Nichols for the success of the study. “Their determination and passion have made tremendous strides in the recovery of this watershed and its impacted communities!”
A website has been developed online and a “Mapping Tool” developed by Stone Environmental Inc. for the New York State Department of State, with funds provided under Title 11 of the Environmental Protection Fund, is available on the MRWC website. This mapping tool is broken down into sections including Watershed Boundries, Pollution Levels, Infrastructure, Hydrography and other current information. It is updated and user friendly. This tool and more information may be found at www.mohawkriver.org .
Contact Dave Mosher, Chair of the Mohawk River Watershed Coalition at 518-399-6980 for issues related to conservation, flooding, pollution, recreation, and economic development.