Albany Water Board considering Basic Creek dam repair options, may lower dam’s hazard rating

Enterprise file photo — Marcello Iaia 

The Basic Creek reservoir supplies drinking water for the city of Albany and is home to a high-hazard dam that is currently in need of repair.

WESTERLO — The Albany Water Board is using $100,000 it received from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation to design plans to repair and possibly lower the hazard rating of the high-hazard Basic Creek dam in Westerlo, which the water board oversees because the Basic Creek Reservoir supplies water for the city of Albany. 

Schnabel Engineering, the firm hired by the water board, is currently working on developing a design alternative for the dam.

This “includes reconstructing the diversion structure and lowering the normal pool such that the consequences of a dam failure would be reduced sufficiently to merit a reduction of the dam hazard designation to a Class A (low hazard) structure,” Deputy Commissioner William Simcoe told The Enterprise this week. 

In 2019, an Associated Press report found that the Basic Creek dam and many other high-hazard dams in the country are in poor condition. High-hazard dams are those whose failure would cause significant damage to downstream residents and properties, but that designation alone does not indicate an imminent risk. 

After the AP report was published, water board Commissioner Joseph Coffey played down concerns about the dam’s ability to withhold water, telling The Enterprise that the dam is “not at the mercy” of the weather, and that, despite the dam’s degradation, the water board is capable of dropping reservoir levels “pretty quickly” when necessary.

“There are some downstream properties that would be imperiled if that dam overtopped,” Coffey said of the Basic Creek Dam’s high-hazard rating. 

To repair the Basic Creek dam, the Albany Water Board must first devise a “cost-effective pathway” toward compliance, on which it’s currently working, according to Simcoe, who submitted a written statement in response to an Enterprise inquiry. 

Simcoe said that Schnabel Engineering provided the following recommendations after an inspection of the dam:

— Perform a subsurface exploration and testing program;

— Evaluate rehabilitation alternatives to meet spillway capacity requirements;

— Stabilize the spillway against overturning and sliding; and

— Repair areas of distress in the spillway, downstream chute, and pedestrian bridge.

 “Moving forward, it is anticipated that the preliminary design alternative will be completed within the Grant window and the Albany Water Board will move forward with a selected remedial alternative and advance that design through the 60% design stage,” Simcoe wrote. 

The 30-60-90 design framework is a standard model that engineers use to plan out their projects. The 60-percent phase, according to a Washington State Department of Transportation document, is essentially a “constructability review,” focused on the details of construction. The 90-percent phase is the “pre-contract review” and is when permitting takes place.

 “This work also includes development of project schedule for construction, an Engineer’s Opinion of Probable Construction Costs (OPCC), and initial permitting activities,” Simcoe said. “It is also anticipated that advancement of rehabilitation design toward a 90% level of completion sufficient for permitting will be initiated within the grant window, but the completion date of this objective depends on available funding.”

More Hilltowns News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.