July 22, 2008

Fragile Dam to Be Reinforced

By Tom Grace, The Daily Star, Oneonta, N.Y.

Jul. 22--A beaver dam on a stream that feeds Otsego Lake is slated to be replaced this summer before it breaks again.

Situated on a small brook on the lake's western shore, the dam has burst several times over the years, according to Matt Albright, assistant to the director of SUCO's Biological Field Station on the lake.

"Every year or so, it washes out, and then a lot of what's behind it washes into the lake," he said.

The periodic break sends gravel, boulders, sediment and microorganisms into the 9-mile-long lake, which is Cooperstown's reservoir.

Among the microorganisms is Giardia lambia, a protozoan spread by beavers and other mammals that sickens thousands of people every year.

Scott Fickbohm, Otsego County's Soil and Water District manager, said that when the dam bursts, the rush of water damages private and public property. And if nothing is done, the event will recur.

"The problem is that where the beavers build on this stream, there is no solid substrate, just muck," Fickbohm said. Although the beavers' mixture of stone, sticks and mud will plug the gap temporarily, the dam eventually will burst as water builds up behind it, releasing a torrent down the hill near Six Mile Point.

To address the problem, the Upper Susquehanna Coalition plans to create a permanent earthen dam, stabilized with sheet piling and incorporating a water-control device, Fickbohm said.

James Curatalo, the USC's watershed coordinator, said the dam will help protect water quality in the lake, source of the Susquehanna River, which flows to the Chesapeake Bay.

"This project will protect the clarity of Otsego Lake's waters and also reduce nutrient loading," he said.

The dam is located on land owned by Fraydun Manocherian, according to the Otsego County Real Property Tax Office. It is near the Rufus Thayer farm, which was bequeathed to the State University College at Oneonta in 2001. Albright said project workers will be able to get to the beaver dam from the Thayer property.

According to Nature Works, a website operated by New Hampshire Public Television, beavers, North America's largest rodents, can reach 4 feet long and weigh up to 60 pounds. Fickbohm said that while beavers generally improve habitat, they're plentiful, and sometimes the short-term damage they do or dangers they pose must be addressed.

The Otsego County Water Quality Coordinating Committee is helping with the project, which will be supervised by the USC and the county's Soil & Water District.

Fickbohm said money for the work will come from the Chesapeake Bay Program Watershed Initiative Grant, a repository of federal funds.

Curatalo said the project will cost about $10,000.


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