High water concerns on Seneca Lake

Gwen Chamberlain
These docks north of Plum Point are nearly submerged, and the stairs that normally lead to a beach now lead directly to Seneca Lake.

Just as Keuka Lake dwellers watched as sheets of ice warped docks not long ago, property owners around Seneca Lake are keeping a close eye on the water level that is lapping at the edges of docks, boat houses and retaining walls.

Measured at 447.31 ft. Monday morning, Seneca Lake’s level was down slightly from last Thursday’s high, and projections are for the water to recede slowly over the next few days.

The optimal level of Seneca Lake this time of year is between 445.8 and 446.4 ft. according to information from the New York State Canal Corporation’s website.

Minor flooding damage is expected when the level reaches 448 ft., and major flood damage occurs when the level hits 449. But last week, some properties were damaged because a stiff south wind whipped up wave action in the 447.6 ft. high water.

The water level was higher than usual earlier this month because of an agreement between the Canal Corporation and Seneca Falls Power Corp (SFPC) to lower Van Cleef Lake in Seneca Falls by five feet for river bank construction work. SFPC is responsible for controlling the levels of both Seneca Lake and Van Cleef Lake under federal regulations.

That construction work was completed April 10, and Van Cleef Lake was refilled, but the level of Seneca Lake has not significantly declined.

An April 1 entry on the SFPC blog explains the work and concludes, “SFPC will continue to work with the NYSCC and local communities to bring Seneca Lake water levels back to normal ranges as quickly as is technically possible.”

With inflow from Keuka Lake reduced as Keuka’s level moderates, and outflow limited by decisions made about conditions downstream, Seneca Lake property owners are feeling the pain, and projections don’t show much major relief.

The National Weather Service hydrologists forecast the level to be down to 447.10 ft. by Thursday, April 24.

The Seneca Lake shoreline experienced serious flood damage in 1972 during Hurricane Agnes.

Following the rapid melt after the blizzard of 1993, Seneca Lake reached 448.95 ft. with high water lasting more than a week.