SARANAC LAKE - The water levels in Lake Flower and the Saranac River dropped over the weekend, but it may be several more days before people who've been evacuated due to flooding can return to their homes.
"Things are improving," Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department Chief Brendan Keough said Sunday night. "We're not out of the woods by a long shot, but things are improving by the hour."
Keough said the water level at the Lake Flower dam dropped 8 inches from Saturday to Sunday. Saranac Lake Village Manager John Sweeney told the Enterprise this morning that the water was 24 inches over the dam's spillway, down from a high of 38 inches on Friday. The water was still touching the bottom of the Main Street bridge over the dam, Sweeney said.
Sandbags and unused water pumps sit in the village of Saranac?Lake parking lot behind Community Bank Sunday night. The Saranac River has gone down but is still overflowing its banks.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
"Overall, I think most of the flooding in the areas we were trying to contain is down," he said.
But the state of emergency continues in the village and the town of Harrietstown. In fact, officials extended it Sunday for five more days.
"We're going to continue that state of emergency until the levels drop down to the point where they can evaluate the safety of the Main Street bridge," Keough said.
Keough said the possibility of more rain in the forecast this week has officials concerned that the water levels could go back up again. That's one reason the village opened the floodgates on the dam another 9 inches Sunday, he said.
Sweeney also said the village wants to bring the lake level down more because the state Department of Environmental Conservation needs to release more water from the lower locks on the Saranac River, upstream from the village.
"We're trying to calculate what they can send to us and still maintain a decrease in the water level of the lake," Sweeney said. "Looking at the weather report, there's also a potential for additional rain. That's in the back of our minds."
While the Saranac River, below the dam, continued to spill over its banks, the water level had dropped enough for the final clarifiers to resume operating again at the village Wastewater Treatment Plant. The high water had flooded the clarifiers on Thursday, causing partially treated sewage to be released down the river.
"The sewer plant is back in compliance and has been since yesterday morning," Sweeney said today.
Back upstream at the Warehouse shopping plaza on Woodruff Street, one of the hardest-hit areas of the village, the water level in the river dropped about 6 to 8 inches over the weekend, plaza owner Bill Rich told the Enterprise Sunday evening.
"It's crested," he said. "Saturday it went down about 3 inches. This morning another 3 or 4 inches.
"I hope it keeps going, although they said they were going to be letting more water through the dam."
Rich said most of the damage to his property was at J.M. Munn's Office Equipment, which took in least 3 to 4 inches of water.
"With the pumps and sandbags and stuff we were able to keep a lot of water out of the buildings so they didn't completely flood," Rich said. "I just can't thank the village and all the different fire departments and people that have been coming around and helping here. It's just amazing what they've done."
"It was a Herculean effort," Keough said. "I don't know if people in the community truly realize the scope of the response to this emergency."
Several apartment buildings, homes and businesses on Dorsey Street and Broadway had to be evacuated as the flood waters peaked Thursday and Friday. Village and fire department officials say they don't know when people will be able to return to those buildings.
"Until code enforcement, the power companies and everyone else has gone in and inspected to be sure they're safe, I think residents should continue to remain out of the buildings for their own safety," Sweeney said.
"For some of those apartment buildings, there's a long ways to go before they can be reoccupied," Keough added. "Whether that's the middle of the week or the end of the week, I can't tell you."
An American Red Cross shelter continues to operate at the First United Methodist Church, although Keough said he didn't believe it had any overnight guests during the crisis.
"But they fed everybody great for several days," he said. "They were a huge asset."
The emergency operations center at the village firehouse continues to operate, though it won't be running around the clock, Keough said.
The Main Street bridge and the Dorsey Street bridge remain closed to vehicles and pedestrians today. Sweeney said inspectors from Franklin County will be here today or Tuesday to inspect those and other bridges in the village.
Representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency will also be here later this week, Sweeney said.