Look back

Though it helps control water flow, a dam is often at Mother Nature's mercy.

April 14, 1994

Owasco Lake is like a gigantic bathtub, and the city of Auburn controls the plug.

Being keeper of the plug isn't an easy job. There's flooding downstream when the plug is pulled, and flooding around the lake when the plug is left in.

Over the years, the city has drawn a lot of fire for the way it manages the plug.

"Their biggest problem with managing lake levels and flooding is that we don't know what's going to happen until it happens," said Ron Raymond, director of the Cayuga County Emergency Service. "It's a real challenge for them.

"They're not only trying to balance, very simply, water levels, but more complexly, all the interests in the water levels — water supply, conservation interests."

You can never keep everybody happy and dry, said Francis DeOrio, head of Auburn utilities.

Even the newest mechanical dams and best hydroelectric models can't handle every whim of Mother Nature. But that's exactly what DeOrio tries to do.

His only tool is the plug — also known as the state dam.

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— Compiled by David Wilcox