1979 TOPOGRAPHIC MAP OF SE PORTION OF THE WEST VALLEY SITE,
points of interest are marked
1995 AERIAL PHOTO OF SAME AREA AS PREVIOUS TOPOGRAPHIC MAP,
note large pond upgradient of damaged track area (see offsite erosion photos)
Reservoir #1 overflowing through spillway to Buttermilk Cr. (WVES photo, 7:57AM 8/10/09)
Closeup of Reservoir #1 spillway at 7:57AM Monday 8/10/09 (WVES photo)
Closeup of Reservoir #1 overflowing through spillway (WVES photo, 8/10/09, incorrect date stamp)
Res. #1 spillway, note torn up geo-membrane and rip-rap (WVES photo, 8/10/09, incorrect date stamp)
Closeup of 18' culvert through Reservoir#1/RR spur berm (WVES photo, 8/10/09, incorrect date stamp)
View up Reservoir #1 spillway, a raging Buttermilk Cr appears to have caused most of the damage,
water rose 40' here Sunday night into Monday morning (WVES photo, 8/10/09, incorrect date stamp)
Closeup of torn up rip-rap at Reservoir #1 spillway (WVES photo, 8/10/09, incorrect date stamp)
Reservoir #2, showing the high water mark on the structure, this and the following photos taken 8/19/09
Reservoir #2, looking east, RR spur tracks were overtopped by flood surge
Reservoir #2, WV site RR spur tracks looking west
Reservoir #2, western end
Reservoir #1, looking west up the spillway toward the reservoir
Looking down the Reservoir #1 spillway to Buttermilk Cr,
entrance to the 18' culvert through the spillway/RR spur berm is at left
Same spillway area, water rose here 40' above normal creek level Sunday night (8/9-10),
note the sediment staining on bushes well up the slope at left
Buttermilk Cr below the Reservoir #1 spillway/RR spur berm culvert
Buttermilk Cr downstream of the Reservoir #1 spillway/RR spur berm culvert,
note the large trees in the rock-strewn debris dam in the background
Closeup of the debris dam of the previous photo;
these trees may have come from upstream of the washed away Fox Valley Rd bridge
Buttermilk Cr landslide on eastern bank downstream of spillway/RR berm culvert
The "Big Slide" on Buttermilk Creek slid again on 8/10/09, looking west from the Heinz Creek alluvial fan (Photo by NYSERDA, 8/13/09)
The "Big Slide" on Buttermilk Cr. lost several thousand more tons of till, looking north from midway down the rim of the creek (Photo by NYSERDA, 8/19/09)
View from top of the "big slide" on Buttermilk Creek,
this slide is located east of the SDA burial ground,
this and the following photos were taken 8/19/09
Area of previous sand lens at north end of slide, mostly removed during storms
Extensive Heinz Cr alluvial deposits opposite big slide,
extreme southern edge of pre-existing gully at bottom right
Thousands of tons of chunks of Lavery/Kent recessional till temporarily narrow Buttermilk Cr. to 5 feet;
foreground: 15' wide slipped block previously to N of "laddered" 45' wide grassy area which is now gone
Closeup of enlarged gully which has replaced 45' wide "laddered" grassy area,
which is visible in the "Big Slide" photos of May 2008
Northern portion of the topographic map handout distributed by NYSERDA for the 8-19-09 erosion tour;
the knickpoints on Erdman Brook and Franks Creek are marked with red arrows,
the circled "3" marks the start of the path taken to view the "big slide" on Buttermilk Cr
(Note: the NRC-licensed disposal area [NDA] is labelled "Nuclear-Licensed Disposal Area")
Two of the several lobes of the Erdman Brook knickpoint, just yards from the SDA (August 19, 2009)
This multi-stepped Erdman knickpoint lobe (to left of previous photo)
is oriented toward the SDA and discharges at low flow, note formation of a pool
View from the multi-stepped Erdman Brook knickpoint
up the steep slope at the north edge of the SDA, just yards away
Franks Cr knickpoint was previously just downstream of far end of this beaver-cut log
Franks Cr knickpoint moved 20 feet upgradient of the log during the excursionary August storms,
note the large pool (~10' wide) created by the exceptionally high discharge
Close-up of beaver-cut log at Franks Cr knickpoint
Surface water monitoring station at Lagoon Cr, located just below the NRC disposal area
Qualimetrics tipping bucket rain gauge failed to collect data for over 15 hours 8/9 to 8/10,
WVES's Mike Pendel explains electric powered gauge operation; burial grounds are in the background
DOE contractor's volleyball equipment previously used nearby,
removed after West Valley Coalition questions (photo date should be 8/19/2009)
Jim Rauch describes CoCoRaHS rain gauge similar to the gauge used by the Perrysburg spotter
to gather her 8/9 intensity measurement; this gauge was presented to NYSERDA's Paul Bembia
on 9/4/09 to highlight the site's admitted record of failures to collect heavy storm event rain data
(date stamp incorrect)
Knowing that the Department of Energy contractor (WVES) does not have reliable -- 24/7/365 -- weather data collection equipment, NYSERDA has been negligent to depend on the DOE for the collection of onsite weather data needed to evaluate climate change. NYSERDA has no weather equipment of its own. Storm-related utility power outages combined with blown breakers onsite and inadequate battery backup of the DOE contractor's rain gauge (only 1.5 hours according to an 8/19/09 WVES event timeline) resulted in the loss of rainfall data for over 15 hours during the most intense thunderstorms of Sunday afternoon and Sunday night into Monday morning. In response to a NYSERDA email request for precipitation data following the storms, a WVES staffer responded that a storm total was unknown due to site-wide power outage, and concluded that "(t)hese power outages are killing my met data records. No Storm water sampling this week." This is a frank admission that the DOE weather station is set up to miss the most important precipitation data of violent, heavy thunderstorms (when utility power is most likely to go out) because it lacks adequate power backup, and that this has happened often enough over the years to render this station's precipitation data virtually useless for the purpose of evaluating erosion impacts, let alone making a contribution to regional climate change studies.
The region-wide collection of complete weather datasets that capture all such excursionary events is essential to enable the NEPA-required, accurate prediction of long-term erosion impacts at this site. As the site owner from the site's inception, NYSERDA should have ensured that this site's weather data collection, if by powered devices, was not interrupted by power outages, i.e. that reliable backup power sources were in place to cover extended utility power outages. It should have had its own equipment to collect the site's weather data.
The 3-day August 8-10, 2009 thunderstorms event in the Cattaraugus Creek watershed produced excursionary rainfall intensities and totals for the local area. A new high flow record for Cattaraugus Creek was set; this was accompanied by a 5-foot flood surge that swept downstream through Gowanda. The 3-day event was preceded by approximately 2" of rainfall (exactly 1.81" onsite) on Wednesday 8/5/09 which left area soils well-wetted, if not saturated -- a very important factor in what was to follow.
Doppler radar data collected by the National Weather Service Buffalo Office estimated that approximately 4" of rain fell in the West Valley area during the 8/9 Sunday 24 hour period. [initial conversation with Steve McLaughlin, NWS Buffalo] However, doppler rainfall estimates can be in error by as much as +/-50% or more, and vary across same radar beam coverage area. [David Zaff, NWS Buffalo, 9/3/09]
Fortunately, a conscientious NWS spotter [see March 30, 2013 Buffalo News article by T. J. Pignataro and correction request] located 20 miles to the west in Perrysburg in the western Cattaraugus Creek corridor where the greatest rainfall intensity occurred during this 3-day storm event, using an official NWS manual rain gauge, determined that 5.98" of rain fell in a single hour and a half period Sunday evening, and a total of 7.27" fell for the 24 hour period Sunday. The maximum intensity was estimated by NWS Buffalo to be approximately 5" per hour; this rate was based on the ground truth measurements by the spotter in Perrysburg which enabled NWS Buffalo to adjust its radar image storm total estimates upward by approximately +1 inch. Based on this adjustment the West Valley site received between 6" and 7" of rainfall for the 3 days, Saturday through Monday. The resulting onsite erosion damage was significant; some of these effects were personally witnessed during an 8/19/09 tour of site by representatives of the Coalition, the Seneca Nation of Indians, the WV Citizen Task Force, and the League of Women's Voters. Many of the photos taken are posted above; NYSERDA photos are posted below.
"Over the course of a couple of hours late Sunday evening, roughly between 1030PM and 1230AM, some of the highest short-term rainfall totals ever recorded in western New York occurred. ... with as much as 5 inches per hour near Perrysburg and Silver Creek." [NWS Buffalo, 8-31-09] NWS Buffalo Office meteorologist Tom Niziol was reported in the Buffalo News to say that such intensity is more typical of hurricane areas in the southern states. This was clearly an excursionary rainfall event for this area, likely the result of climate change and indicative of worse events to come.
While the Perrysburg spotter's data are impressive, the uncorrected NWS Buffalo doppler radar storm total image indicates that the greatest rainfall total, and likely greatest intensities, for this 3-day event occurred in an area (the grey rectangle) centered on the intersection of Hopper and Hanover Rds near the Silver Creek Reservoir in Chatauqua Co., approximately 5 miles west of the Perrysburg spotter's location, where possibly just under 9" total fell (using the nearby Perrysburg +1" ground truthing adjustment of the doppler estimate.) The Perrysburg spotter's three-day total was 7.87 inches, and the August total was 13.08" (normal is ~4").
NWS Buffalo has posted two excellent summaries with photos and animations of the two exceptional Sunday storm events:
The flood event summary contains satellite photos that show the massively soil-laden runoff plumes from Cattaraugus Creek and Eighteenmile Creek (and other smaller creeks) extending out into Lake Erie and eastward to Buffalo, down the Niagara River, and out into Lake Ontario. These photos demonstrate one example of the expected flow patterns that radioactive wastes from West Valley will take when the inevitable breaching of West Valley's waste facilities occurs. No opportunity for disagreement about computer simulations and predictions, just a real-world demonstration provided free of charge by "Mother Nature." Satellite photo three days after the flood.
Crews clean up several inches of mud left behind by the August 9-10, 2009 flood.
Will the mud in Gowanda be radioactive after the next superstorm? [NYDH photo]
Although this was not the maximum total short-term event total possible for the Cattaraugus Creek watershed, the intensities of these thundercells were quite possibly new maxima for the local area and the associated runoff surges created a new record high flow for Cattaraugus Creek. According to records of The Pennsylvania State Climatologist (a service of Penn State University): "On July 17, 1942, a great flood developed over the Smethport area, resulting in an estimated 34.50" of rain--in just one day, including 30.60" in only six hours, setting a world record. The official observing site, Smethport Highway Shed, reported only 13.08" for the entire month, because the flood consumed the guage [sic] after 6.68" of rain. The total results from the substitution of the official estimated amount for the amount measured. In July 1947, portions of Erie suffered a twenty-inch one-day deluge, although the reporting site received substantially less precipitation. The most rainfall officially recorded in July at an official reporting site is 17.89" at Wild Creek Reservoir, Carbon County in 1945--also during that same decade." [http://pasc.met.psu.edu/PA_Climatologist/fod/paex.html]
Had the one-day 20" 1947 Erie, Pa rainfall event (intensity maxima unknown) or the over 30" that fell in Smethport on July 17, 1942 (with prolonged intensities of at least 5" per hour) occurred in the West Valley vicinity, the onsite erosion resulting from more than three times the volume of runoff of our August 2009 event would have been much more severe. The reservoir berms, which experienced damage in the August 2009 event, may not have held, releasing a further massive surge to Buttermilk Creek; the large knickpoint advances witnessed on Franks Creek and Erdman Brook - a multi-stepped lobe just a few yards from and oriented toward the foot of the SDA slope - would have been much greater, likely cutting into the northerly SDA trenches; the slides on Buttermilk Creek would have further cut back the plateau; and so on.
In the 1950s the 30-year moving average annual precipitation for Buffalo was ~36"; it is now over 40". While part of this change may be attributed to the station's move from its downtown location to the airport location in 1943, Buffalo's climate has definitely become wetter. The latest DOE EIS for the West Valley site, unwisely approved for release by NYSERDA, does not consider or attempt to evaluate the accelerated erosion impacts resulting from such climate change. It is simply foolish to ignore climate change, especially its excursionary aspects. It is precisely these excursionary storm events that will hasten the inevitable breaching of the burial grounds and other facilities at West Valley. The 150 to 300 year worst-case predictions for breaching of the burial grounds may turn out to be conservative.
This severe erosion event should be a reality wake-up call to policymakers in Albany who for too long have ignored the unique physical unsuitability of the West Valley site for radioactive waste disposal. All attempts to control erosion in this young, unstable glacial till-filled valley will inevitably fail. That reality should prompt the State to move expeditiously to plan the complete excavation of the burial grounds and removal of the site's radioactive materials in the near term. Whether that plan is accomplished via federal stimulus money, a separate federal funding mechanism, a State bond act, or a combination of these, a commitment to full excavation must be made without further delay.
Note: these additional photos uploaded 9/7/09:
NYSERDA Photos 1, post-August 2009 storms erosion
NYSERDA Photos 2, post-August 2009 storms erosion
These are the photo descriptions as supplied by NYSERDA