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Plans to mitigate Schoharie flood risk

SCHOHARIE -- When it rains hard -- the Schoharie Valley worries about another flood.  Less than two weeks ago, some homeowners got hit again, less than two years after Hurricane Irene.  Now, there are new plans on the table to slow the flow of water.

A sort-of committee has been put together to explore the options.  Because if recent weather is any indication, what they used to consider the "One Hundred Year Flood" may come quicker.

"We're never going to eliminate flooding, we understand that," said Schoharie Town Supervisor Eugene Milone (D).

But, if water flows in to Schoharie again, Milone hopes proposed projects could keep the liquid lower.

"We can control the speed of the water," said Peter Nichols, Schoharie County Soil and Water Conservation.  "We can control how much area the stream has to attenuate its floods when they decide to come."

Leaders are now looking at plans for pumps in towns, or even ponds to hold water when it runs off the hills,     as it did during Irene, and in some places just two weeks ago.

"The water can slow down, spread out, soak in, and take a little bit longer before it reaches our populated areas," Nichols said.

Nichols says marshes are like nature's sponge.  Expanding them could give flood waters another route to travel.  "It's feasible once you have your playbook in hand," Nichols said.

A study would examine where these ponds could go.  They don't want to disrupt much in the way of agriculture but could look at places where the soil is less favorable for farming, and water has a tendency to flow.  Nearly two years after Irene, time now says Milone to devise a long-term plan. 

The forecast has a challenge: "one of the biggest problems I think we're going to face is acquiring the funds necessary to put all of this in place," Milone said.

There are some options which may be available to help drainage issues without draining taxpayers.

A study alone could cost $300,000.  That's just for Schoharie County, and the creek goes beyond its borders.  A price tag hasn't placed yet, but responsibility could fall to the Army Corps of Engineers, the DEC, or Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

"There's no one funding source that covers everything," said Assemblyman Pete Lopez (R-Schoharie).  "So have them put the proposal together, give us a sense of what the financial needs are, and we're going to go shopping and see what we come up with."

Leaders are working on grants for stream gauges, while working to secure funding from the state or the federal government on other solutions on what to do with the water.

"They want to live in peace without fear," Lopez said.  "It hangs over us.  We have to get past that to move forward."