Ancram brings news from down under… the roads

ANCRAM—The climate, it is a-changin’.

Weather extremes are becoming the norm. So when “the big one” shows up in Ancram, the town wants its culverts to be ready.

Defined as a drain or channel that allows water to flow under a road, railroad or sidewalk, culverts are the subject of the ongoing Hudson Estuary Watershed Resiliency Project (www.hudsonestuaryresilience.net), which continues to assess thousands of culverts to find out which are too small to allow flood waters to pass and identify which are barriers to aquatic organisms.

According to the website, “precipitation has been increasing in the northeastern U.S., resulting in many floods on rivers and streams. Climate change models predict that rain in the northeast will fall in more intense events in the future, although it is difficult to predict on a local scale. Sea level rise will also affect the Hudson Estuary. In 2011 and 2012, Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee, and Superstorm Sandy caused tremendous damage. Private property and public infrastructure in floodplains and along streams and rivers continue to be at risk from future flooding.

“After devastating storms, landowners and government officials are often left with few popular or acceptable mitigation options to address flooding problems. The public and many officials have a misguided idea that debris removal and dredging, berming, and armoring streams are effective flood prevention and mitigation options. These techniques are often counterproductive, possibly increasing the potential cost of future storm impacts; they do not stop major flooding, create erosive forces upstream and downstream, and may degrade habitat.”

Initiated in the summer of 2012, the project combines research, demonstration and educational outreach “to address the challenges of flooding, stream and watershed management, and climate change.”

The project partnership is led by the New York State Water Resources Institute at Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension, with support from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Hudson River Estuary Program, according to the website.

Dr. M. Todd Walter, associate professor, biological and environmental engineering at Cornell University and Andrew Meyer, shoreline conservation specialist with the state DEC’s Hudson Estuary Program, came to Town Hall back in March to discuss the project and its findings.

Eight watersheds were studied in the Hudson River estuary. In Columbia County, scientists studied Ancram, which is in the Punch Brook and Shekomeko Creek watersheds, Claverack in the Hollowville Creek watershed and Gallatin in the Punch Brook watershed. Of Ancram’s 108 culverts, only 57% were found suitable. In Claverack, 54% of the town’s 72 culverts were suitable and in Gallatin, 60% of the town’s 40 culverts were suitable.

“Culverts were considered ‘suitable’ if they could convey the peak storm runoff associated with a storm with 5 year or greater return period. The ‘suitability’ for a town or watershed was the percent of culverts that could convey the 5 year or greater storm,” according to the project findings.

While “road culverts are ubiquitous” and have traditionally been designed for maximum efficiency, municipalities generally choose to install “the smallest culvert that can accommodate the design flow,” which is an “approach driven largely by economic considerations—smaller culverts cost less,” says the project findings.

Ancram Supervisor Art Bassin told The Columbia Paper this week that the study done locally in part of 2013 and 2014 was designed to identify and rate capacity and aquatic “passibility.” Capacity has to do with how much run-off a culvert can handle based on typical storms occurring at varying intervals over years. Aquatic passibility has to do with the ability of aquatic organisms to migrate through a culvert, he said.

So a satisfactory culvert has to accommodate not only water, but also the things that live and travel in it.

“It’s important to get the capacity to handle run-off without destroying our roads,” said Mr. Bassin.

To bring Ancram’s culverts up to snuff, Planning Board, Zoning Board and Court Clerk Colleen Lutz is working with the town’s Conservation Advisory Council and Town Highway Superintendent Jim MacArthur on an application for a $750,000 grant through the DEC’s Hudson River Estuary Program. The three-quarters of a million dollar grant will allow for the replacement of 17 Ancram culverts, which were identified by scientists as having both capacity and aquatic passibility problems. At the town’s May 21 meeting, the Town Board unanimously adopted a resolution of support and authorization for seeking the grant.

In another environmentally-conscious action at the same meeting, the board adopted a climate change resolution sponsored by Congressman Chris Gibson (R-19th) which in part urges county, state and federal governments “to take prompt and effective measures to rapidly address climate change by promoting and encouraging a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and their associated infrastructure, improvement in the efficiency of energy systems, and the development and installation of renewable energy systems.”

To contact Diane Valden email

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