SENNETT — It's been 45 years since Owasco Lake has had flows as high as they were this past weekend after a rainstorm flooded parts of Cayuga County.
Sam Granato, water treatment operator for the city of Auburn, said at one point during Saturday's intense rains, the flow coming into the lake from the Owasco Inlet was 4,240 cubic feet per second. Granato said the flows are down to more manageable levels now, between 1,300 and 1,400 cubic feet per second.
That 4,240 number doesn't factor in other tributaries that flow into the lake, so Granato said usually they multiply the inlet flow's number by two to get the total amount of water.
"We were probably up, at one point, to 8,500 cubic feet per second, which is just unheard of," he said Thursday. "Saturday's rain event was unprecedented because we went through all the data, and we can look and call it up, and it's been 45 years since we've seen a flow that high."
That was when Hurricane Agnes passed through in 1972.
Granato said the lake is slowly coming down. It was at its highest level late Sunday night, measuring about 713.83 feet above sea level. This morning as of about 7 a.m., he said it dropped to about 713.05. The goal is to have the lake between 712.5 and 713 feet. The city doesn't want to drop the levels too quickly because it could flood people out downstream, Granato added.
Thursday morning, Owasco Town Supervisor Ed Wagner reported to the Cayuga County Water Quality Management Agency some of those Owasco Lake numbers, which had people shaking their heads.
"With the storm, we had more calls, more flooding, more problems than I can recall in the last 10 years," Wagner said.
The inlet had about an 8-foot increase in less than 24 hours, he added, causing a lot of flooding and damage to the Owasco Flats area. Cayuga County Environmental Engineer Bruce Natale said it was unusual because peak flows came out of Mill Creek rather than the main inlet, causing hundreds of homes to be flooded in Moravia Saturday.
That led to discussions about the Owasco Flats restoration project, which has been on hold until permits are approved and delivered by the state. The project is not fully funded, either, but the Cayuga County Legislature passed a resolution last month authorizing the county Planning and Economic Development Department to pursue a state grant to get it all done. Steve Lynch, director of the planning and economic development department, said the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the state Environmental Facilities Corporation had encouraged the county to apply.
County Legislator Tim Lattimore said the state permitting needs to happen faster. He asked if the restoration project had been finished by now, whether it would have helped lessen the damage to the flats.
"It would have been interesting to be out there and watch it," Natale said. "We would have caught at least some of the sediment."
Cayuga County Environmental Health Director Eileen O'Connor added that the county was still concerned about trees that had fallen down in the inlet. She said it is the DEC's responsibility to remove those trees, but it had not yet done so. The Owasco Lake Watershed Inspection Committee will be sending a letter to the DEC requesting their removal.
It wasn't just Owasco Lake working to come down to summer water levels. Agency members discussed how Cross Lake and Lake Como, too, saw high levels last weekend. Carl Wiezalis, a representative of the Central New York Waterways Inc., said the lake rose about two feet in one day.