OSWEGO — The Rice Creek Dam was overcome with water Thursday, leading to the evacuation of several homes in the area.
State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES) responded to flood waters topping the Rice Creek Dam in Oswego Town after extreme precipitation caused water levels in the creek to swell rapidly. DEC officials said Friday several homes downstream were temporarily evacuated “out of an abundance of caution,” but the impacted individuals were cleared to return to their homes Friday morning.
The Rice Creek Dam is a low-hazard earthen dam owned by SUNY Oswego and located near the college’s Rice Creek Field Station off Thompson Road.
Oswego Town Supervisor Rick Kaulfuss declared a state of emergency Thursday as nearly four inches of rain came down in the area over the course of several hours. Roadways in the town were closed, and several remained closed Friday as floodwaters had compromised the integrity of certain portions of road in the town.
Kaulfuss said Friday morning “everything is tentatively good” in relation to the dam, but noted there were still several roads barricaded for motorists’ safety. He said the dam at Rice Creek is now “under control,” but noted officials are continuing to monitor the structure.
The DEC said rapidly rising waters impacted the earthen dam structure Thursday, but water levels in the area were declining by Friday. The DEC said in addition to water flowing out of the impoundment through Rice Creek, water was also flowing over the top of the dam and presenting a risk to the structure.
Kaulfuss said officials received a phone call Thursday from staff at the SUNY Oswego Rice Creek Field Station that water was going over the entire top of the dam, which holds back the 29-acre pond at the field station.
“Normally the water level is about a foot to two-foot below the dam and the water was going over the top,” Kaulfuss said. “By late (Thursday) night almost the whole dam was under water.”
Officials checked on the dam first thing Friday morning, Kaulfuss said, and the water had subsided somewhat. The supervisor said only a few houses on state Route 104 between county Route 89 and Jackim Road “were really in danger.”
The DEC said Friday five households downstream voluntarily evacuated, two were vacant and another five residents chose to stay in their homes.
DEC officials said the Rice Creek Dam is designated as a low-hazard dam and the directive to evacuate was issued while efforts to assess the dam’s risk were ongoing following the significant rainfall.
State and local officials were able to safely inspect the dam surface around midnight and again Friday morning to confirm the structure was not compromised as a result of the flood event.
State officials and state police divers are continuing to monitor the dam structure to ensure there are no risks of failure, according to the DEC. The DEC said Friday experts believe there are no risks of the dam failing.
Officials said it’s not clear if the structure suffered any long-term damage, but DEC dam safety inspectors would make a full evaluation of the structure once the water level drops.
Travel restrictions put in place Thursday in Oswego Town have been rescinded, Kaulfuss said, but potions of Chapel Road, Hall Road, Bunker Hill Road and Lakeshore Road are still closed, along with portions of county Route 89.