COLONIE — Supervisor Peter Crummey said he is looking to invest in the Stony Creek Reservoir, and that starts with infrastructure to bring the water level back to capacity and initiating a forestry plan for the some 1,000-acre site in Clifton Park.
First, Crummey said he would re-install the flatboards, or the planks that sit on top of the dam that backs up the Stony Creek and creates the reservoir. They are used to regulate the water level and allow, or prevent, water from flowing into the spillway and eventually into the Mohawk River. The flatboards had rotted and were removed causing the reservoir to drop thousands of gallons of water.
Secondly, Crummey said he would send out a Request for Proposal to develop a forestry plan for land around the reservoir that will include an inventory of what is up there and cleaning up what is not needed or old and decaying and leaching organic compounds into what is a potable water source. He said that may or may not include logging some existing trees. The Town Board, by unanimous decision, recently gave him permission to issue the RFP.
“Water is the most valuable asset on the planet and I think what we need to do is manage the acreage up there. I have nearly 1,000 acres of land, with about one third of it holding water, and we think it can hold more, or at least it once did,” he said. “My position is that I plan on maintaining it as a reservoir and I believe there is value in water even if I was able to sell water to others. I’ve no intention of selling the reservoir.”
In April, 2021, then Supervisor Paula Mahan raised the ire of many when her administration issued a Request for Proposals to sell Stony Brook with a minimum bid of $5.1 million. In July, the RFP was pulled pending a review by the Department of Health. It is not clear if that review ever took place, but the plan included a request to amend state regulations governing a reservoir to allow for passive recreation like swimming, boating, fishing and hiking.
It would have set the stage for a sale to Clifton Park. That town’s supervisor, Phil Barrett, expressed an interest in purchasing the reservoir to use as a park in 2021 and once before. In 2009, Colonie, while scrambling to close a deficit and desperately hurting for cash flow, wanted to sell the land to Clifton Park for $8.7 million but retain the water rights as a backup to its main source of water, the Mohawk River. Clifton Park offered $3.2 million and negotiations fell apart.
In 2021, a petition started by the Friends of Clifton Park Open Space supporting the purchase of the reservoir had more than 3,000 signatures.
“The Stony Creek Reservoir provides wonderful ecological benefits as protective wetlands, flood barriers, fresh air and forest reserves, important habitat for fish and fowl as well as extended grounds for breeding and migratory birds,” according to the petition. “The Stony Creek Reservoir has potential to provide a wide variety of public open space uses including hiking, passive recreation and non-motorized use of the waterways and extension of the existing trails systems.”
Last year Barrett said the fair market value of the nearly 1,000-acre site with 365 acres of water and about 600 acres of land was $2.9 million and that he was interested in purchasing the entire thing or just the land and allowing Colonie to keep the water rights.
Crummey, though, said nobody has approached him about a purchase and re-iterated his plans for the pristine land.
“I have no intention of selling,” he said adamantly. “It’s a great asset to the town and it was brilliant work by Sanford in 1949.”
A bit of history
The reservoir was the brainchild of then Supervisor William Sanford. Despite objections by those in Vischer Ferry and Clifton Park, in 1951 the state gave the town permission to dam up the Stony Creek and create a 1.4 billion reservoir with a piping system that runs under the Mohawk River to Niskayuna and up River Road to the treatment plant on Onderdonk Avenue. The total system came with a $1.8 million price tag.
Two years later, the first water was pumped from the reservoir and it provided the blossoming Town of Colonie with a plentiful supply of potable water for decades. The town primarily relied on the reservoir during the dry summer months when their primary source of water, the Mohawk River, could not keep up with demand.
The treatment plant, and the science behind treating water, advanced over the years and the Latham Water District now has the ability to move 30 million gallons of Mohawk River water per day through 437 miles of pipe to about 25,500 customers and 4,100 fire hydrants. The average daily water usage is about 10 million gallons per day. In 2021, the highest daily total came in June, when customers used 23.2 million gallons.
Even as dry as the summer of 2022 proved to be, there were no water restrictions placed on Latham Water District customers and the town did not tap into the reservoir. In fact, it has not tapped into the reservoir for a source of potable water since 2004, said Latham Water Department Superintendent John Frazer.
The likelihood of the town needing water from the Stony Brook was further reduced when the town signed an agreement with the City of Albany to provide and/or receive water should the need arise by either municipality.
The benefits of that agreement are multi-faceted. The largest being, unlike water from the Stony Creek, it is already treated and will not need to be run through the plant on Onderdonk to make it potable.
While the plant does have the capability to treat water from the Stony Creek, on reason it has not used its water for 18 years is the presence of organic compounds. It is not difficult to treat but the process is different than treating water from the Mohawk River.
To stop, or at least slow, the leaching of organics into the reservoir is one of the objectives of Crummey’s decision to conduct a study of the land surrounding the water.
“I want to inventory of what we have up there and engage in a best practice forestry management plan which could include clearing out dead and decaying items and if that includes harvesting some of the trees up there, absolutely, we will do it,” he said. “But, I want to know what we have up there first.”
At this time there are no plans to allow passive recreation at the site, Crummey said, until the engineering on the flatboards are complete and a forest management plan is in place.