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Q&A With Stevenson Dam Owners

Oxford Patch asks FirstLight Power to discuss with us concerns that residents have about the way it operates during a storm. Here's what the company had to say.

The company that owns the Stevenson Dam, FirstLight power, responded to concerns residents have about the way the company responds to flooding concerns. The following is from a question and answer session with FirstLight spokesman Chuck Burnham.

About whether FirstLight has dropped the water level before storms and how much it drops the level:

“We do drop the levels in advance of a storm, but there is a minimal level we are allowed to go to. We try to get down to those levels prior to a storm, but the amount of space that creates with the amount of rain we get is very minimal to that level.

“Once the rain comes and reaches our maximum level, there is nothing we can do, and the water will just come down.

“When we’re lowering it, we’re sending the water downstream, so we want to do that slowly. If we do it too quickly, we will end up flooding people before they get the hit by the storm.”

Environmental concerns

There are also some environmental considerations we have to take into account (when taking down the water level). For example, we can only bring Lake Lillinonoah to 186 feet per environmental regulations. Lake Zoar is so minimal that it doesn’t have that much effect. And the amount of water that we can drop at Lake Lillinonoah isn’t going to buy much time for people downstream.

“Lake Lillinonoah is kind of shaped like an isosceles triangle with a point at the bottom. Once you get to that point, lowering it a little bit more isn’t going to buy you that much time.”

Was there just too much rain to handle during Hurricane Irene?

“Simply put, you are not able to hold back a lot of water when getting this amount of rain.”

Stevenson Dam is not a flood control dam

“The dam is not constructed for flood control, so you simply don’t have the dams so you simply don’t have the flood controls that you do at dams that were constructed for flood control.”

Does the company hold water back because it makes money by using the water to generate electricity?

“That is just not true and, when you think about it, that theory makes no sense.

“For example, he said, “At Stevenson, when we’re operating at full (energy) capacity generation wise, we’re using 6,000 cfs (cubic feet of water per second). As of Thursday afternoon, he said, the dam was flowing at 52,800 cfs.

“That’s 46,000 cfs of water – that is our fuel - that we can’t use,” he said. “If we could store that, we would want to because we could use it. It’s like if you had a punctured gas line, you would want to suck it up and conserve it. If we were able to dam it up and hold it, we would because we could use it. Unfortunately, we cannot do that. …But, as it is, the water is not going through the turbines; it’s going right through the gates. The reason we open the gates is because if we didn’t, the water would simply flow over the top of the dam onto Route 34.”

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