Old canal system blamed for flooding in Potsdam neighborhood

Published: Mar. 1, 2023 at 2:12 PM EST
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POTSDAM, New York (WWNY) - Backyards in a Potsdam neighborhood have a flooding problem because infrastructure isn’t draining the area like it used to. Neighbors don’t like that a longer-term fix doesn’t seem to be in the plans.

Neighbors Gregory Wanamaker and Kevin Smith live on Pleasant and Waverly streets, and when they moved in, they didn’t expect to have waterfront properties. But they do.

When the snow melts, their backyards flood enough so that sometimes you can use a kayak or canoe to get to the other side.

“It’s been possible. That’s not an everyday occurrence, but it’s been possible to actually kayak, to canoe and stuff and it’s, you know, it’s not what we paid for,” said Wanamaker.

Clarkson University professor Erik Backus says the flooding is due to a lack of maintenance of a village water canal system that drains the property. The more than 100-year-old system runs under the property.

“As time has gone on there have been failures in the canal system, meaning that they’ve either caved in or they’ve had increased challenges with water flows. And so as they have to, they’ve been trying to triage that,” said Backus.

Village officials say if they were given the opportunity to do a total restoration of the flooded canal system, it would cost the village around $15 million.

Potsdam’s Planning and Development Director Fred Hanss says the village has been working on short-term solutions, but a long-term solution is just not in the cards at this time.

“I don’t think that there’s a quick fix here. As much as we would love to see the problem corrected, I think it’s going to take some time to raise the funds and commence the work,” he said.

For Smith, the short-term fixes aren’t good enough.

“At times sinkholes will open in front of our property along Pleasant Street and they just throw dirt in it and you know if you keep throwing dirt in a sinkhole, then it’s going to slow down the flow of water in the central canal,” he said.

Hanss says the village is trying to find funding through New York state to help fix the problem.