FirstLight: Extreme rainfall raises level of Housatonic River

Lake Zoar by the Stevenson Dam along Route 34 in Monroe.

NEW MILFORD, CT – This week’s storm, along with more rainfall in the forecast Friday into Saturday, will lead to high water levels and elevated flow rates for the Housatonic River, conditions FirstLight warns are extremely dangerous.

The power company, which owns and operates Stevenson Dam, Shepaug Dam and several other hydroelectric and pumped hydro facilities along the Housatonic, urged caution and awareness in a recent press release, and advises the public to avoid the river until high flows subside.

“Citizens should avoid areas around local rivers and dams,” New Milford Police Chief Spencer Cerruto said in a press release. “Do not walk through flood waters; moving water, especially at these current rates, is very dangerous and can cause a person to stumble or fall.”

It is likely the flows will remain elevated in the river through this weekend, and communities will continue to see residual impacts of this Tuesday’s storm, which brought two to nearly five inches of rainfall to towns across Connecticut.

The Housatonic River’s peak flows at the Stevenson Dam exceeded 30,000 cfs, approximately 10 times the average flow rate for this time of year, according to FirstLight.

FirstLight takes numerous steps to prepare for and manage high flow events, beginning with the constant monitoring of United States Geological Survey (USGS) Gauges and communication with the National Weather Service River Forecast Center, allowing the team to anticipate, plan, and prepare for river conditions coming downstream.

During high flow events, FirstLight operates its Housatonic River hydroelectric facilities under strict protocols developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, per its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) licenses.

It should be noted that FirstLight’s Lower Housatonic hydroelectric facilities are not flood control facilities and are not capable of holding back water to prevent flooding.

Within the constraints of its licenses, FirstLight works to accommodate high flows, and consistently communicates with relevant agencies and local officials to ensure broad awareness of river conditions.

In addition, to safely manage high flows, FirstLight teams work around the clock to ensure substantial resources are available to diligently monitor and manage river conditions.

To support the Lower Housatonic community’s need to anticipate and respond to high flows that could potentially bring flooding, FirstLight launched a flood notification system for communities downstream of the Stevenson Dam, which issues emergency notifications when flows exceed a certain threshold and flooding is possible.

For information and to sign up for the Housatonic River Flood Notification System, click here. The National Weather Service also has a helpful resource for those interested in monitoring flows on the Housatonic River.

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