A furry, four-legged scourge is wreaking havoc on a Hudson Valley town's water supply, forcing local officials to scramble to keep up.
The culprits are a family of beavers that has been building dams near Mechanicville, impeding the flow of water from the primary stream that empties into the small reservoir the town depends on for drinking water.
“I wouldn’t call it a fight. I call it a very challenging opponent and we play a game of chess,” Mechanicville Public Works Commissioner Anthony Gotti told the Albany Times-Union. “I take his dam down. I’ve got to figure out where he goes next.”
Towns like Mechanicville, about 20 miles up the Hudson River from Albany, don't have the luxury of relying on large reservoirs fed by numerous tributaries. That has made the problem more pressing, as beavers are capable of building a dam in as little as two nights that can slow water flow and create algae in the reservoir.
The challenge is complicated by the fact that the dams, which consist of tightly-wound branches secured by mud and leaves, usually must be removed by hand since work crews can't bring heavy equipment into the forest without building a road, the Times-Union reported.
The beaver became New York state's official mammal in the 1970s and was once nearly extinct. It is a protected species that has made a comeback and is celebrated for its positive effect in creating wetland habitats.
Paul Jensen, the state Department of Environmental Conservation's regional wildlife manager, said he believes beavers that create problems with the water supply should be trapped or killed.
“In these cases lethal removal of beaver is an important management tool to ensure human health and safety,” he told the newspaper, adding that the state's robust beaver population wouldn't be hurt by the loss of the beavers.
Pierce Hoyt, former director of Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center, said he prefers trapping the beavers and relocating them to an area where they can build dams with no adverse effects, but acknowledged that in some cases they may need to be killed.
Other solutions include tricking the beavers by putting a pipe through a hole in the dam with screens to stop the beaver from plugging it and allowing water to flow through. But that requires a stream of a certain depth, Paul Curtis, a wildlife specialist at Cornell University, told the Times-Union.