Fish & Game Committee Report: From Bill Cook
On April 27, 2021, I spoke with Frank Benedetto, New York State, Department of Environment Conservation (DEC), (315-836-6470) to inquire about state or federal regulations impacting the control of natural lake levels. Mr. Benedetto referred me to a colleague in the NYS DEC, Water Resources and Watershed Management Division, Jessica Hart, (315-785-2246) with whom I had a follow-up discussion on April 28. Based upon my discussion with Ms. Hart, she shared the following information and insights:
1) Water body dams or impoundments of less than six feet in height are not regulated by the State or Federal Government.
2) Any established wetlands are governed by State and Federal regulations. NYS wetland regulations involve the control and maintenance of water level and flow. The federal government (US Army Corps of Engineers) is concerned with a variety of issues, but more specifically endangered species and development of wetlands and areas within flood plain boundaries.
3) All established wetlands in New York State are identified, mapped and monitored by NYS DEC. Detailed information on identified wetlands are highlighted and categorized on the NYS Environmental Resource Mapper (accessed via the NYSDEC homepage).
4) Any waterflow control measures (such as a dam, regardless of the size) that directly impact a downstream wetlands must be permitted by the DEC and have an approved Wetland Water Level Management Plan. The DEC has enforcement authority to ensure permit compliance.
I specifically characterized the Sylvia Lake outlet dam on the property of Empire State Mine, a subsidiary of Titan Mining Corporation, that the Fish and Game Committee has regulated/managed for years (with the knowledge and blessing of the property owner). I also shared with Ms. Hart the lake level control challenges posed by downstream beaver activities. Ms. Hart acknowledged that beaver activities are categorized as natural occurrences, of which, the DEC has no direct control measures or associated regulations. I questioned her regarding the cascading effect that beavers have on upstream and downstream water bodies and land, and specifically whether beaver activity contributes to and/or establishes wetlands that come under the jurisdiction of the DEC. Ms. Hart’s response was a definitive no. In support of her answer, she stated that beaver activity typically cycles with availability of food sources. Accordingly, land that they flood is typically a temporary condition and not characterized as wetland. Landowners are authorized, with a DEC issued permit, to eradicate beavers to protect their property.
Based upon review of the NYS Environmental Resource Mapper, the lands downstream of the Sylvia Lake outlet dam are not an established wetland. Therefore, there is no NYS or federal regulation that governs the control of flow through the outlet dam. I confirmed this observation and conclusion with Ms. Hart.