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Warner Dam Repairs

As you drive over the Washington Street Bridge these days, you no longer see the big crane that was visible for much of the summer and fall. It was being used to assist in the repairs which now seem to be completed at the Warner Dam — though there is still construction fencing around the location.

It seems that the job of the crane was two-fold:

¯ to lift and then replace the control gates as they were repaired, and

¯ to drive pilings that acted as coffer dams to allow access to the gates themselves. I was unsuccessful in my attempts at getting construction and repair information from the state about the project.

The old gates had been there for 40 years and so it was a good thing that the state spent some money on their maintenance. They are called “Tainter” gates named after an engineer who originally came up with the design. When they open, the water comes out at the bottom of the dam instead of spilling over the top.

At the Warner Dam there are three such gates. This provides for redundancy. Just one gate is required to handle the water that comes down the Chadakoin River.

The dam, named after one of its original owners, has its limitations. There was a Chautauqua Lake before there was a dam on the Chadakoin River. The original dam was designed to provide water power at the rapids in the river. Today, its primary use is to help control the water levels in the lake and to ensure adequate water releases downstream.

It would probably be more accurate to say that the Warner Dam “tweaks” or influences the level of the lake. Before the river reaches the dam, it first must pass over the natural sill or bar which mother nature provided millenniums ago in creating the lake. When the river level is low, that “bar” can make it difficult to take a boat down as far as the dam.

Though the BPU does not “own” the dam, it acts as its chief operator. Personnel from the BPU open and close the gates based upon water level readings in the lake, and river flow requirements downstream from the dam. They also provide a local “set of eyes” keeping watch over the dam, its maintenance and its repairs.

People don’t think much about the dam unless there is a calamity of some kind — like docks being washed out up the lake or flooding occurring downstream on the river. Then you will see public comments usually criticizing the BPU. However, the BPU follows a blue print established by the DEC, the county and others as to how much water it should be releasing at any given time.

A dam is one of those unseen public works that we take for granted — like sewer and water plants. We don’t think much about them until they stop working. In this case, Warner Dam helps maintain what is probably our greatest natural asset: Chautauqua Lake. We should be glad it’s there and kudos to the state for spending money for its maintenance and repair!

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.

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