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REIMAGINE THE CANALS

TASK FORCE REPORT


JANUARY 2020
REIMAGINE THE CANALS
TASK FORCE REPORT

JANUARY 2020
TABLE OF
CONTENTS

LETTER FROM THE CO-CHAIRS 1


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 3
TASK FORCE OVERVIEW 7
ERIE CANAL BACKGROUND 15
TASK FORCE FINDINGS 23
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 59
APPENDICES 61

Tainter gates
at Lock CS-1

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REIMAGINE THE CANALS

LETTER FROM
THE CO-CHAIRS
The opportunity to lead the Reimagine the Canals
Task Force has been immensely gratifying for all
three of us. As former state and county officials,
each of us knows well the Erie Canal – but in our Waterford, NY this short effort. This includes both public
institutions – such as SUNY’s College
has just begun. As we work together toward
realizing these goals, we will inevitably
wildest dreams could never have imagined a vision of Environmental Science and Forestry, encounter challenges – much like the
Rockefeller Institute and Monroe Community visionaries behind the 19th century Erie
for its future as ambitious and exciting as the one College – and private ones, including Union Canal and its successor, the 20th century

we present in the pages that follow. College and Clarkson University. It includes
federal agencies, such as the US Geological
Barge Canal. As they were convinced of the
wisdom of their ambitions, so too are we.
Survey and Corps of Engineers, and New The bicentennial of the original Erie Canal
This Task Force report lays out a bold and diversity of voices and opinions presented in York State ones – most notably the six offers an opportune moment to reinvent
inspiring vision that builds on the Canal this report provide a clear road map for the agencies who participated directly in the and reinvest in our shared legacy, and
System’s legacy by leveraging and adaptively transformation that lies ahead. Task Force. we look forward to working with groups
reusing its unique ability to control one of represented by Task Force members, with
our State’s most precious resources – its We want to graciously thank our fellow Task The process of seeing through the work of New York State agencies and the Governor,
water. The Task Force was formed as a Force members who provided their time this Task Force has been educational for and with communities along the corridor to
response to the many compelling ideas and expertise to ensure that our work was all three of us. Despite our respective years realize a vibrant third century for this storied
submitted to the New York Power Authority’s grounded in a fine-grained understanding of experience in government, no single waterway.
Reimagine the Canals ideas competition in of the inter-related challenges and individual could ever hope to fully understand
2017. From ecologic restoration to economic opportunities that the last half century of the issues touching canalside communities
regeneration and from agricultural irrigation change has left in its wake. We benefitted across more than 350 miles of our great state.
to flood mitigation, the Task Force studied a greatly from their diverse knowledge Every town, village, and city along the Canal Joanie Mahoney, Task Force Chair
wide array of challenges and opportunities bases - scientists, farm experts, former has its own specific culture, industrial history,
facing canal communities. elected officials, geologists, developers, and set of physical challenges. By dividing the
environmental and preservation advocates, work into three watersheds – the Western,
The findings presented in this report are the fishermen, boaters, and marina owners, all of the Central and the Mohawk - we were able to Joe Martens, Task Force Co-Chair
product of Task Force member meetings, whom conveyed the concerns of their own engage in a depth of analysis and discussion
public engagement sessions, stakeholder constituencies. that could not otherwise have been achieved
focus groups, and hundreds of hours of over such a short period.
expert consultation. While no analysis We also want to thank the institutions Bob Duffy, Task Force Co-Chair
undertaken over a six-month period could participating in our effort, whose work in Though our panel’s deliberations are
be fully comprehensive, we believe the shaping New York State goes far beyond complete, the task of delivering this vision

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REIMAGINE THE CANALS

EXECUTIVE
SUMMARY

Marking the beginning of the third century of the Pittsford, NY round in towns throughout the Mohawk River designed to keep up the momentum initiated
Valley. With 40 percent of the State’s water by local and state projects, most notably
New York State Canal System, the Reimagine the bodies connected to the NYS Canal System, the imminent completion of portions of the
the growth of recreational boating and fishing Empire State Trail running along the Erie
Canals Task Force was convened in May of 2019 by across the State is separately threatened by Canal from Albany to Buffalo.
Governor Andrew Cuomo to determine how this a rise in aquatic invasive species within, or
poised to travel through, the canal vector. And Acknowledging the diversity of communities
historic infrastructure asset can be mobilized anew water quality remains a major issue across the
State – most notably in Mohawk Valley towns,
and economies located across more than
360 miles of the Erie spine, Task Force work
to promote the health and well-being of upstate New some of whom draw water from the Canal. was undertaken both in plenary sessions
and in subcommittees devoted to each of
York’s communities, economies, and ecosystems. The Task Force attempted to address and three regions: the Mohawk Region, running
balance these opportunities and threats. Its approximately from Waterford to Rome; the
This panel, comprised of community leaders embrace new land use patterns and modes work was largely inspired by the Reimagine Central Region, embracing the Finger Lakes
and experts in canal-related fields, worked of development to stabilize populations and the Canals competition run by the New area through Oneida Lake; and the Western
over the ensuing six months to review studies encourage new industries and tourism. Recent York Power Authority (NYPA) in 2017, Region, from Macedon to Buffalo. This report
and analyses that addressed a wide array of investments by the State have supported and which produced innovative ideas for canal contains both system-wide findings and
challenges and opportunities and to develop facilitated these changes, recognizing the shift activation. But it also builds on work being recommendations relating specifically to
its own set of findings. This report outlines the from commercial to recreational use along the done by a variety of state agencies actively those individual regions.
panel’s work. waterway and priming towns along the Erie engaged in upstate economic development
spine to engage in adaptive reuse of land, and resilience – the Department of The Task Force’s system-wide
The Reimagine the Canals initiative takes buildings and infrastructure. Environmental Conservation (DEC), the Office recommendations recognize opportunities
place at an important juncture. Over the of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to expand and improve existing recreational
last half century, commercial shipping on Yet challenges to fully realizing the waterway (OPRHP), Empire State Development uses and also introduce new ones. A
the Erie Canal declined and then largely as an economic development engine over the (ESD), the Department of Agriculture and series of recommendations for immediate
disappeared – a reflection of the decline of course of the next century are significant. Markets, NYPA’s Canal Corporation and operational improvements have been
manufacturing industry in towns along its Climate change increasingly threatens upstate the Department of State. Together, the made, most notably enhanced coordination
route. In response to this structural change, New York with extreme, unpredictable weather Task Force’s 25 appointed members and six among the constituencies that oversee and
and to the demographic shifts it caused, - ranging from damaging summer droughts in ex-officio agency nominees reached broad manage programs relating to the Canal and
canalside communities have been required to western New York to chronic flooding year- consensus on a variety of recommendations unified marketing and branding to greatly

3 | REIMAGINE THE CANALS EXECUTIVE SUMMARY | 4


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

widen its renown and appeal. A range of new canal uses from being undermined by
new economic development opportunities future invasive outbreaks. Further study of
were identified for near-term investment. strategies to counter invasives is warranted
Novel forms of water recreation, including to protect and enhance New York’s waterways
paddleboarding, rafting, surfing, and ice- and the businesses that depend on them.
skating, can strengthen tourism and build
on existing recreational boating activity as The Mohawk Region, due to its riverine
well as tap into ecotourism trends. “Iconic nature, continues to be plagued by flooding
Infrastructure” destinations should be from summer storms and winter ice jams,
identified, to create year-round tourist both of which are exacerbated by the
attractions and a backdrop for community changing climate. The Task Force recognized
celebrations. Improvements in overnight there are significant opportunities to
accommodations can support forecasted mitigate the effects of ice jams, reduce
growth in tourism and recreation, enabling summer flooding, and improve forecasting
visitors to stay longer and spend more in canal and early-warning systems in ways that
towns. Redevelopment of industrial property allow residents to better prepare for flood
held by the Canal Corporation should be events and lead to the benefits that come
pursued at scale, activating now-moribund from reviving natural systems. The Task Force
downtown waterfronts. New connections also recommends further study into Mohawk
to the Empire State Trail should be made, tributary restoration, which could prove
providing better access to the trail from towns, an important method for enhancing water
cultural and educational institutions, and quality and improving the health of fish and
hospitality destinations. wildlife habitats in this region.

In the Western Region, existing Canal Together, the findings laid out by the
infrastructure can be adaptively reused to Reimagine the Canals Task Force offer a road
greatly strengthen rural economies. Using Erie map for transformation - not simply from an
Canal water to expand agricultural irrigation industrial to a recreational waterway but also
will enable farmers to invest in high-value to a 21st century tool for communities to meet
crops, such as apples or other fruits and and overcome unprecedented economic and
vegetables, safeguarding these crops against environmental challenges.
the increasing droughts, which are forecast
to accompany climate change. Recreational
fishing growth in Lake Ontario tributaries will
result from more reliable access to canal water,
optimizing fish habitats and greatly expanding
opportunities for angling-related tourism.

In the Central Region, restoring and


expanding wetlands should be pursued
now to increase ecotourism—sites like the
Montezuma wetlands are an important habitat
for migratory birds—and restore the health of
a now-compromised ecosystem. Combatting
aquatic invasive species would improve the
health of New York State’s waterways, which
today suffer from the ravages of hydrilla,
algal blooms and a range of invasive fish and
mollusks, and would protect investment in
Waterford Flight

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TASK FORCE OVERVIEW
7 | REIMAGINE THE CANALS
TASK FORCE OVERVIEW

INTRODUCTION
New York State Canal System

To Lake Ontario To Lake Champlain

OSWEGO CHAMPLAIN
LOCKPORT ROCHESTER CANAL Oneida Lake CANAL
ROME

To
Lake UTICA
Erie SYRACUSE
BUFFALO CAYUGA-SENECA
CANAL

SCHENECTADY
ALBANY
Seneca Lake Cayuga Lake

To New York City N

Stretching from Albany to Buffalo, perhaps no Revitalization Program, and the Canalway Grant • Find new opportunities to enhance
Program have helped activate waterfronts recreation and tourism along the
single piece of infrastructure is more responsible along the Canal and continue to do so. Places Erie Canal
like Pittsford, Baldwinsville and Fairport have
for New York’s rise as a state, and New York City’s become models for adaptive reuse of waterside • Assess how the Erie Canal can help
rise as a global capital, than the storied Erie Canal. infrastructure. Most recently, the Reimagine the
Canals Ideas Competition, undertaken by NYPA,
mitigate impacts from flooding and ice
jams to improve resiliency and restore
provided initial funding for the development ecosystems in canal communities
The 1817 plan to build a man-made ditch years, including maintaining and operating the of a new form of canalside housing on former
across hundreds of miles of wilderness was costly infrastructure designed for its original industrial lands on a historic section of the • Identify opportunities for using Erie Canal
unprecedented in its reach—one of the most commercial uses. Canal - a “pocket neighborhood” in Canastota, infrastructure to expand irrigation for
ambitious American engineering visions New York. Western New York farms
of all time. The construction of the original In the absence of commercial traffic,
Erie Canal, and its expansion and eventual recreational use along the waterway and To explore these opportunities further, the The Task Force’s findings, described on the
replacement by the present Barge Canal over its trail has grown steadily over the last Reimagine the Canals Task Force was convened pages that follow, represent a bold, forward-
the course of the 19th and early 20th centuries, several decades. Motorized boating is now by Governor Cuomo in May 2019 to investigate looking vision designed to anchor resilient
supported the growth of industries across accompanied by kayaking, canoeing and other how the Erie Canal can be used as a catalyst for communities and improve the quality of life for
its breadth - powering the development of forms of human-powered boating; biking, economic development and tourism, improved the 3.6 million New Yorkers who live along the
towns such as Schenectady, Amsterdam, Utica, walking and running along the trail have quality of life, and environmental resiliency. Erie Canal’s spine. Harnessing the full potential
Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo. expanded as well. The number of community- Chaired by Joanie Mahoney, former Onondaga of this unique piece of infrastructure could
based events, such as concerts and festivals, County Executive, the Task Force was asked to: transform the future for these New Yorkers
Yet over the last half century, commercial has increased significantly and these now take and many others and cement the State’s place
shipping on the Erie Canal waned and place seasonally across the breadth of the • Identify potential new uses for the Erie as a leader in the fight against the ravages of
then virtually disappeared. Changing trade Canal. Canal aimed at improving the quality of climate change.
patterns and industrial decline, as well as life for New Yorkers
competition from alternative modes of At the same time, under Governor Cuomo’s
transport, have left the waterway devoid leadership, new forms of investment have • Evaluate how the Erie Canal can support
of the barges it was designed to serve. The supported the transformation of canalside and enhance economic development along
Canal, however, continues to be operated communities. Programs like the Downtown the canal corridor
much as it has been for the past hundred Revitalization Initiative, the Local Waterfront

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TASK FORCE OVERVIEW

TASK FORCE Task Force Chairs


Joanie Mahoney SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

MEMBERS
Chair; Central Region

Bob Duffy Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce


Co-Chair; Western Region

Joe Martens NY Offshore Wind Alliance


Co-Chair; Mohawk Region

Task Force Members


Michael Arcuri Arcuri Ward Law
Andy Beers Empire State Trail, Hudson River Valley Greenway
Ron Bierstine Oak Orchard Tackle and Lodge
Leslie Becraft-Corrigan Winter Harbor Marina
David Buicko Galesi Group
John Courain Genesee Waterways Center
Marie Cramer Canal New York
The Reimagine the Canals Task Force included Maureen Doyle Central NY Waterways
25 members representing important constituencies Robin Dropkin Parks and Trails New York
John Garver Union College
and interests across the NYS Canal System. Stu Gruskin The Nature Conservancy
Bruce Van Hise Corn Hill Navigation/Sam Patch Tours
In addition, six representatives of state Between May and November 2019, each
Jill Jedlicka Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper
agencies served ex-officio on the panel regional subcommittee convened multiple
(Department of Environmental Conservation, times and the full Task Force convened Robert King Monroe Community College, Agriculture and Life Science
Empire State Development, Department of three times. At each meeting, the Task Chris Lajewski National Audubon Society
Agriculture and Markets, Office of Parks, Force reviewed commissioned analyses Cornelius B Murphy Jr. SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
Recreation and Historic Preservation, Canal from technical experts in fields relevant to
Bill Nechamen Association of State Floodplain Managers/Nechamen Consulting
Corporation, and Department of State). its appointed mission as well as public input
garnered by the State University of New York Derrick Pratt Erie Canal Museum
Because of the expansive geography that (SUNY) Rockefeller Institute of Government, Bob Radliff Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor
comprises the Canal System, Task Force work which conducted outreach with Canal John Robinson Our Ability
was undertaken both in plenary and in three communities across the State. Drawing on their Amanda Krenning-Muoio New York Farm Bureau
regional subcommittees: the Central, chaired varied areas of professional expertise, Task
David Wolfe Cornell University, School of Integrative Plant Science
by Joanie Mahoney (Chief Operating Officer Force members produced the findings outlined
at the SUNY College of Environmental Science in this report.
and Forestry in Syracuse and former County  
Executive of Onondaga County), the Mohawk, Task Force Ex-Officio Members
chaired by Joe Martens (Director of the New
Richard Ball Department of Agriculture and Markets
York Offshore Wind Alliance and former
New York Department of Environmental Erik Kulleseid Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
Conservation Commissioner), and the Western, Rossana Rosado Department of State
chaired by Bob Duffy (CEO of the Greater Basil Seggos Department of Environmental Conservation
Rochester Chamber of Commerce and former
Brian Stratton NYS Canal Corporation
Lieutenant Governor of New York).
Howard Zemsky Empire State Development

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TASK FORCE OVERVIEW

TASK FORCE
SUPPORT

BuroHappold Engineering served as lead going forward. The Rockefeller Institute also
consultant and secretariat to the Task Force. In collected information online from Canal users
addition to coordinating Task Force meetings across the country. A link to the full report is
and producing this report on behalf of the provided in the Appendices to the Task Force
panel, the firm commissioned and managed report.
a group of sub-consultants to undertake
technical analysis for each of the topics under Following the Rockefeller Institute’s
evaluation by the Task Force. A list of these engagement with the general public, in
sub-consultants as well as information about September 2019, a separate series of
their reports is found in the Appendices. stakeholder focus groups was organized by
BuroHappold with the assistance of Task
To assist in and inform its mission, the Force members. These brought together
Task Force appointed SUNY’s Rockefeller experts from government, academia, private
Institute of Government to simultaneously industry, business owners, community leaders
carry out a community engagement process. and non-profit advocacy organizations
The Institute held five open community to further explore the concepts and
engagement sessions across the Canal corridor opportunities raised in the public workshop
in July 2019, attended by a total of 400 sessions. The input from these sessions also
participants. Additionally, over 250 comments helped to inform and shape the findings
were submitted to the Rockefeller Institute’s detailed in this Task Force report.
online survey tool for the public engagement
process. The Institute’s goals were to (1) share
innovative concepts from the Reimagine the
Canals Ideas Competition and precedents
for waterway revitalization, (2) gather and
report on the concerns and ideas of canalside
communities, (3) identify projects likely to
Community engagement
increase Canal engagement, and (4) encourage
workshops in Schenectady public participation in Canal transformation
and Brockport, July 2019

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ERIE CANAL BACKGROUND
15 | REIMAGINE THE CANALS
ERIE CANAL BACKGROUND

A HISTORY OF
REIMAGINATION

The story of the Erie Canal is the story of America: Historic map showing
19th century and
converted seasonally into a series of navigable
pools for deep-draft vessels.1
maintained and operated for commercial traffic.
In 2000, Congress established the Erie
proposed 20th century
a story of leadership in innovation and industry, Erie Canal routes Canalway National Heritage Corridor, which,
While the Barge Canal did attract a significant together with the non-profit Erie Canalway
of westward expansion, and of courage, foresight, amount of cargo in its early decades, Heritage Fund, partners with federal, state,
increasingly stiff competition from railroads and local organizations to preserve the
and agile adaptation in the face of changing and new competition from roads and highways Canal’s history, provide recreational and
circumstances. would make its success short-lived. Commercial
traffic on the system as a whole peaked in 1951
educational opportunities, and foster economic
revitalization. In 2014, the Barge Canal was
and, partially due to the opening of the St. designated as a National Historic District in the
In 1817, New York Governor DeWitt Clinton As the 19th century wore on, the Canal Lawrence Seaway in 1959, has declined steadily National Register of Historic Places.
approved funding for a wildly imaginative struggled to accommodate traffic and since. Today, no regular commercial traffic
construction project: a canal that would cut increasingly large barges. Between 1836 and remains on the Erie Canal portion of the Barge As the Erie Canal enters its third century, it also
clear across New York State, connecting the 1862, the original Erie Canal—sometimes Canal. stands poised for its third reimagining. The year
Hudson River to Lake Erie. Before the Erie called “Clinton’s Ditch”—was made wider and 2017 marked 200 years since construction on
Canal, a traveler between Albany and Buffalo deeper, resulting in what became known as Recognizing the decline in commercial the Erie Canal began. That year, control of the
would face a two-week journey on roads that the “enlarged Canal.” But commercial shipping shipping, New York State undertook a number Barge Canal shifted to NYPA, the Reimagine
baked in the summer and dissolved in a sea continued to outgrow the Canal – and was of initiatives in the late 20th century to the Canals competition was launched, the NYS
of mud in winter; after the Canal opened in increasingly shifting to rail. In an attempt to examine opportunities for recreation along the Canal System was designated as a National
1825, that same trip could take five days. The compete with the railroads for freight, New York waterway. In 1992, the New York State Thruway Historic Landmark, and construction began on
Canal thus provided a critical supply line that State approved an ambitious plan to deploy Authority took ownership of the Barge Canal, the Empire State Trail - nearly half of which runs
in many ways “made the nation,” moving trade new technologies to ‘canalize’ the Mohawk, and the New York State Canal Recreationway alongside the asset. These actions set the stage
and settlement from the east coast into the Oswego, Seneca, and Clyde Rivers (i.e., building Commission was created to advise on canal- for the visioning, engagement and analysis
center of the country. Its innovative engineering canal infrastructure in the rivers themselves) related activities. The Commission developed undertaken by the Reimagine the Canals Task
contributed to the founding of upstate New and reroute the central portion of the Erie Canal the Canal Recreationway Plan in 1995 and the Force.
York’s many excellent engineering and science north through Oneida Lake. The reimagined New York State Canal Revitalization Program
1 The Barge Canal System consisted of four separate
universities, such as Rochester Institute of and relocated “New York State Barge Canal” in 1996. These plans laid an early foundation canals: the relocated Erie, the Cayuga-Seneca
Technology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute opened in 1918, with its Erie section featuring a for the repositioning of the Canal as a spine of (connecting Cayuga and Seneca Lakes to the Erie Canal),
the Oswego (following the path of the Oswego River from
and Union College. deeper and wider channel as well as dams along recreation and tourism, yet were subject to the Baldwinsville and Clay to Oswego) and the Champlain
the Mohawk River that allowed the river to be constraint that the Barge Canal continue to be (running north from Troy into Lake Champlain).

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ERIE CANAL BACKGROUND

LOOKING FORWARD

Opportunities

T
Today, the Erie Canal (“the Canal”) operates Beyond the Trail itself, the canal waterfront
seasonally from May to October as a has served to stimulate regeneration and

AF
recreational waterway. During what is referred redevelopment in communities along its banks.
to as “the navigation season,” most boaters Supported by a variety of state programs,
spend time cruising ‘pools’ of water between recent development projects in communities
locks; only about 24 percent of users travel such as Fairport, Pittsford, Baldwinsville, Little
through a lock, the majority of them in Falls, Amsterdam and Schenectady have proven
the Central region. Motorized boating still the viability of diverse types of canalside
dominates on much of the Canal, but human- development and new waterfront public spaces.
powered recreation - such as paddleboarding Regular programming in other canal towns

DR
and kayaking - is growing rapidly: between attract visitors from nearby communities,
2011 and 2016, the number of human-powered primarily but not exclusively during the
boat lockages nearly tripled, and the Canal summertime navigation season.
Corporation presently maintains over 125
kayak launches. Other factors suggest that the Canal is ripe
for a reimagining. Opportunities to attract
Most regular users of the Canal, however, are tourists from other locations are close at hand,
not on the water at all. The 750-mile long thanks to the steady flow of tourists who
Empire State Trail, which upon completion in already visit upstate New York every year;
2020 will be the longest multi-use trail network the Canal is within an hour’s drive of Niagara
in the nation, runs alongside the towpath of Falls, the Adirondacks, and the Finger Lakes. A
the original Erie Canal from Albany to Buffalo. burgeoning millennial population coming out
Known as the Canalway Trail, this 360-mile of upstate universities offers opportunities to
path is heavily used as a place of landside expand local population bases, and constitutes
recreation in its fully completed sections – a receptive audience for human-powered
most notably along the channelized, western boating as well as new and innovative forms
portions of the Canal. The Trail provides the of canal activity. With increased recreational
communities along its banks with a place to opportunities and improved branding and
bike, walk and run – or simply relax and enjoy marketing, the Canal could take its place among Programming and
views of the water. New York State’s most popular attractions. events in Amsterdam
and the Tonawandas

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ERIE CANAL BACKGROUND

Challenges
As commercial shipping on the Canal has Orleans Counties threaten the future of the
declined, so too have the populations of cities State’s primary region for fruit and vegetable
along its path. Cities like Buffalo, Rochester production. Even in otherwise wet years,
and Syracuse – industrial powerhouses during periods of drought can significantly lower the
the era of waterborne transportation – are quality and yield of agricultural products. The
now much smaller than they were even a half absence of natural aquifers in the area leaves
century ago. farmers in that region particularly vulnerable
to these incidences of drought: Western New
Apart from declining population and use, York faced a 43 percent crop yield loss on
the Canal’s infrastructure itself is now a average during the 2016 drought, making it the
century old – with much of it approaching hardest-hit region in New York State.
the end of its useful life. Major components
of this industrial-sized infrastructure, such as Challenges to the resilience of canal regions
the locks, movable dams, and guard gates, and their economies go beyond climate
constructed expressly to support commercial change. By connecting bodies of water that
use, require either replacement or increased had historically been isolated, the Canal
maintenance. The total budget for the Canal inadvertently created opportunities for aquatic
System is rising rapidly: while historic costs invasive species to easily spread from the
have been between $90M and $100M annually, Great Lakes through New York waterways,
total capital and operating costs during the undermining the natural ecosystem balance
last two years have increased to $125M and and leading to consequences such as depleted
$140M respectively. fish populations and the proliferation of
hydrilla and harmful algal blooms among
Canal infrastructure and the communities others. At the same time, canal infrastructure
it abuts face significant climate-related and has changed the natural flows of the Mohawk
resilience challenges – challenges that are River, disconnecting it from its tributaries
more acute with each decade. Floods have and significantly impacting the health of
been recorded in the Mohawk River Valley the watershed as a whole. Such damage to
since the 1600s, but climate change has ecosystems ripples across local economies
increased the frequency and intensity of as the number and quality of birding, fishing,
flood-inducing storms: four of the region’s ecotourism, and boating opportunities
six most destructive floods have taken place diminishes.
Commercial Shipping and Upstate Population Decline in the last ten years and studies indicate
that flood levels in the Mohawk Valley could The size and scope of the Erie Canal make it a
rise nearly 20 percent over the next decade. powerful tool for shaping the future of upstate
Recent ice jams have further increased the communities. The Task Force’s findings offer
risk of severe flooding along the Mohawk strategies to adaptively reuse the unique water
River, with 8- to 17-mile ice jams recorded in control systems that power the Erie Canal in
the Canal above Schenectady in 2017 and ways that anchor more resilient communities,
2018. Both winter and summer flooding events provide expanded and new recreational
contribute to the capital costs associated with opportunities, revive damaged ecosystems,
canal infrastructure, in addition to the losses and improve quality of life for the 3.6 million
incurred in canal communities. New Yorkers who live along its spine. In doing
Flooding at Lock E-10, so, the Task Force intends to set precedents
June 2006
Climate change has also impacted canal for reimagining yesterday’s infrastructure to
Water chestnut growth in communities in western New York. Increasingly address the challenges of today and seize the
the Finger Lakes severe droughts in Niagara, Monroe, and opportunities of tomorrow.

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TASK FORCE FINDINGS
23 | REIMAGINE THE CANALS
TASK FORCE FINDINGS

INTRODUCTION

The Erie Canal cuts across 360 miles of New York


State - through major cities and small towns,
mountains, marshes, and farmland. The Canal’s
reach thus incorporates areas with strikingly
different needs, topographies, and ecosystems: Reflecting this geographic and economic
what is important to Rochester is likely less diversity, the Reimagine Task Force was
important to Rome, or to the dozens of undertaken in plenary as well as in three
smaller villages through which the Canal and regional subcommittees: the Mohawk
Mohawk River pass. Indeed three separate and subcommittee, the Central subcommittee,
relatively distinct watersheds comprise the and the Western subcommittee. Multiple
Erie portion of the NYS Barge Canal system: subcommittee meetings were held to develop
a man-made channel in the west (emptied for findings relevant to the challenges and
maintenance in the winter), the central portion opportunities in these respective regions.
(encompassing both man-made and riverine The Task Force subsequently came together
stretches), and the Mohawk River Valley in as a group to debate the findings of these
the east. Each watershed is characterized by subcommittees. These deliberations, and the
unique forms of infrastructure necessary to ultimate findings of the Task Force as a whole,
support the waterway’s integrity and use. are summarized in the sections that follow.

Rome, NY

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TASK FORCE FINDINGS

THE WESTERN
REGION

The Western region is loosely anchored by two Canal. Farmers with property adjacent to the
of New York’s largest cities, Buffalo in the west Canal or streams have the option of siphoning
and Rochester in the east, but is largely rural. water from the system for seasonal irrigation
In this region, the Erie Canal is entirely a man- when it is available.
made channel supported by earthen berms
with a uniform width and depth (unlike other Western New York also boasts some of
regions where the Canal is mainly ‘riverine’ and the best recreational fishing in the State, a
manipulates the flows of a river). Small streams main driver of tourism in this largely rural
flow north to Lake Ontario, which is 270 feet area. Flows from canal waste weirs enhance
lower than the man-made waterway. They conditions in the tributaries running north
serve as an outlet for many of the Canal’s 16 to Lake Ontario - particularly in October
Brockport, NY waste weirs, which are gates raised or lowered or November, when the Canal is emptied.
to maintain water levels in the Canal and to Brown-trout fishermen and others overwhelm
empty it during the winter for maintenance. available lodging during this brief window in
time.
Western Region To Lake Ontario Water from the western portion of the Canal
is used for purposes other than recreational
MEDINA
boating - most notably for agriculture. For
example, Orleans County, which is bisected
LOCKPORT
GENESEE RIVER by the Canal, boasts a robust agricultural
economy: it has the second-highest annual
BROCKPORT
ROCHESTER revenue from vegetable production and the
FAIRPORT third highest from fruit production in the
TONAWANDA State. This high-value crop production is in
To Syracuse
part driven by fertile soils and temperature
moderation by Lake Ontario, but it is also
PITTSFORD
To influenced by the ability to irrigate via the
Buffalo
and
Lake
Erie

N TASK FORCE FINDINGS | 28


periods is likely to increase between 2020 water will be present in those streams during
2016 New York State and 2050, and that irrigation could serve as summer’s low-flow months, when farmers
Summer Drought Conditions an important resilience measure in an area need it the most. Farmers surveyed knew little
facing increasing periods of drought. about the policies of the Canal Corporation
• Absent irrigation, farmers have a difficult in relation to water distribution, making them
time growing high-value crops such as hesitant to commit to large-scale investments
apples and vegetables. These crops require in irrigation infrastructure.
a significantly higher investment in time and
43% average labor than low-value crops like feed-corn This research was presented to the Task Force
crop loss and soybeans, hence a guaranteed water Subcommittee and then to the full Task Force.
supply is crucial for farmers to commit the There was consensus that irrigation should be
investment needed to grow apples and expanded given the value it offers to farmers,
vegetables. local economies, and the State as a whole. Task
• An increase in high-value crop production Force members emphasized the importance
not only increases total revenue for farms, of moving forward with this initiative quickly,
but employs more people and has a given forecasts of increasing frequency
ripple effect on the food packaging and of drought in the area, and recommended
Extreme drought distribution industries. Unirrigated feed- developing a ‘smarter’ water management
Moderate drought
Severe drought corn yields approximately $600 per acre, system that would have the ability to better
Abnormally dry whereas a well-managed apple orchard monitor flows in streams and adjust them
can result in anywhere between $10,000 to more frequently to respond to both weather
$20,000 per acre for farmers. conditions and the use of water by farmers.
THE WESTERN REGION • Southwest Michigan exemplifies a region
similar to Western New York that has The findings by the Task Force are as follows:
Expanding Irrigation benefited significantly from expanding
irrigation. Between 1982 and 2013, irrigated • Enhance communication between
acreage more than doubled from 175,000 irrigation users and Canal Corporation
The idea of using canal water to expand Dr Shaw’s report noted that: acres to 352,000 acres; acreage of managers
irrigation originated from a proposal by blueberries increased by 200 percent and • Identify water management programs
Dr. Stephen Shaw of SUNY’s School of • While New York is a relatively wet place vegetables by 54 percent. Today, the value to regulate water releases into streams
Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF), with abundant rainfall on an annual basis, of crops per acre in Southwest Michigan is as needed for irrigation, including
submitted during the Reimagine the Canals even brief periods of dry weather between almost double that of the rest of the state. implementation of smart metering
competition in 2017. While the proposal was rain events can significantly affect the yield • Assess viability of, and parameters for,
not one of the two financial winners of the and quality of crops. Dr. Shaw and members of the BuroHappold an “irrigation district” or other advisory
competition, the jury determined that the • There is no readily available alternative team carried out a series of interviews in the entity to oversee water management
short-listed idea merited further study. Dr. water supply. Western New York has fall of 2018 at 12 farms in Orleans and Monroe associated with irrigation
Shaw was retained as a consultant to better very limited groundwater, and using the Counties. While farmers almost universally • Develop a grant program to incentivize
understand current irrigation usage as well as municipal water supply for irrigation would expressed an interest in expanded access farms to invest in equipment needed to
the potential value and feasibility of bringing quickly exceed the capacity of the water to water, two major barriers were identified: utilize Canal water
canal water to a larger population of farmers distribution system. (1) irrigation infrastructure can be a large • Identify methods to ensure that
in this region in the future. • Agricultural production can be sensitive capital expense, and investments associated agricultural needs are coordinated
to even brief rain-free periods during the with higher-value crops are even higher with other Canal Corporation capital
Dr. Shaw’s report concluded that the season, especially in the case of fruits (specialized equipment, labor, etc.) and (2) investments on the Canal
opportunity to use canal water for irrigation is and vegetables. With only five percent of farmers were unwilling to make such a large
largely untapped, and that canal water could agricultural land in the region irrigated, capital investment unless guaranteed a reliable
be feasibly used to combat drought and the the majority of farmers are susceptible water source during the critical season. While
vagaries of climate change. Once supplied to drought. For instance, 2016 saw the the Canal Corporation today issues permits
with a reliable source of water during the worst drought in two generations, dealing to farms for siphons to convey water from the
season, western farms may be able to shift a massive blow to Western New York’s Canal into streams, there is no guarantee that
from low-value crops (like feed corn and farmers.1
soybeans) to high-value crops (like apples, • There is general consensus that the 1 On average, farmers lost 43 percent of their crops. Losses
berries and vegetables). frequency of high-temperature, rain-free on vegetable farms were even higher, almost 60 percent.

29 | REIMAGINE THE CANALS TASK FORCE FINDINGS | 30


• sustaining elevated base flows in the north- The findings by the Task Force are follows:
flowing streams during the summer months
would provide optimal conditions for fish • Develop, in conjunction with Department
to run upstream from Lake Ontario and of Environmental Conservation, a program
promote natural reproduction for summer and fall release of canal water
• because streams in this area have limited into specific tributaries
fishing access, public fishing access along • Work with local communities and
these streams should be expanded to Department of Environmental
ensure that enhanced flows do not result in Conservation to increase public fishing
crowding that would negatively affect the access and amenities on private property
fishing experience along the tributaries
• a new water management regime designed • Deploy water management strategy
to support recreational fishing will not affect that includes flow and water quality
current recreational boating activity on the monitoring
Canal and will be able to support increased • Work with Department of Environmental
flows for expanded irrigation Conservation to conduct basin stream
biology assessments to analyze impacts of
The outcomes of the focus group meeting additional water releases into tributaries
and technical analysis were presented to • Develop a website or other mechanism
the Task Force. There was consensus among to provide flow-release information to
the group that a longer fishing season and anglers and tourism entities
more robust fish habitat would help increase
THE WESTERN REGION Recreational fishing on
the Oak Orchard Creek
ecotourism spending on lodging, meals, tackle,
and other support businesses, and that the
Enhancing Recreational Fisheries State should endorse any water management
regime changes. Task Force members asked
to make sure that the overall ecological impact
Western New York is a popular recreational Ron Bierstine, a Task Force member and owner from augmenting flows is assessed, and
fishing destination for trout and salmon in of Oak Orchard Tackle and Lodge, helped that expanding access along these streams
New York State, partly due to the impact of convene a focus group with five licensed includes a commitment to improve the
the Canal’s release of water into tributary NYS fishing guides, Orleans County Tourism amenities available to anglers (parking, toilets,
streams of Lake Ontario. In similar fashion Director and County legislators, as well as etc.).
to the way DEC stocks fish in Lake Ontario, DEC regional managers to brainstorm ways
there is potential to enhance existing angling in which recreational angling opportunities
opportunities in these streams by providing can be enhanced using canal water. Thomas
more predictable fish runs; this would attract McDonald, Dam Safety Manager at NYPA and
many more anglers to the region. a licensed fishing guide, facilitated this session Western Region Canal and Streams
and assisted the group in understanding the
Currently, water is released into north-flowing feasibility of various possible interventions.
To Lake Ontario OAK ORCHARD SANDY
streams from the Canal either to maintain There was general consensus among CREEK CREEK
water levels needed for navigation or at the stakeholders and supporting technical
end of the season when the Canal is drained. consultants that: MEDINA
LOCKPORT
These releases are episodic, but do have some • modifying the Canal’s water management
ancillary benefits - most notably in encouraging regime could help enhance recreational BROCKPORT
ROCHESTER
fish to enter these streams from Lake Ontario fishing opportunities
and thus creating angling hot spots on a few • the period when the Canal is drained at
north-flowing streams fed by the Canal when it the end of the navigation season could be
is drained each fall. The irregularity of releases extended and optimized in order to prolong
To To Syracuse
is not optimum for fish habitat in these streams; the recreational fishing season in the fall, Lake
Erie
it also creates unpredictable angling conditions distribute fish into area tributaries more
and limits anglers’ ability to plan trips during uniformly, and attract more anglers to the
the most productive angling periods. region for better and more predictable fishing

31 | REIMAGINE THE CANALS TASK FORCE FINDINGS | 32


TASK FORCE FINDINGS

THE CENTRAL
REGION

The Central region presents some of the most rerouted north to its current location to take
promising opportunities to expand tourism advantage of and utilize existing waterbodies
along the Erie Canal. It is home to some of the such as Oneida Lake and the Clyde River. 1
busiest locks on the entire NYS Barge Canal
system, thanks to recreational traffic moving The construction of the Canal in the 20th
seasonally between the Finger Lakes, Oneida century impacted the region’s ecosystem in
Lake, and Lake Ontario. The Finger Lakes, several ways. Wetlands were partially drained,
including Cayuga and Seneca, already attract including those associated today with the
tourists with their breweries, distilleries, and Montezuma Wildlife Refuge complex, a crucial
vineyards, and serve as a hub for localized stopover point for more than one million
recreational boating. Syracuse, Ithaca and migratory birds annually along the Atlantic
Seneca Falls, NY many smaller college towns in the area draw in Flyway. In addition, the Canal channelized
tens of thousands of young people during the natural rivers and separated streams from
academic year. their floodplains. Designers of this section
To Lake Ontario
cleverly connected multiple watersheds
While new forms of tourism have proved a for freight passage – never imagining that
Central Region
OSWEGO Oneida Lake boon to local economies, this same area faces this would over time facilitate the spread of
CANAL BREWERTON
ROME substantial ecological challenges - in part aquatic invasive species from the Great Lakes
BALDWINSVILLE
the legacy of moves made to expand the and the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers into New
Erie Canal over time. The Erie Canal’s first York waters, and thus alter the ecosystems
iteration consisted of a channelized canal of the Finger Lakes and other local water
LYONS
To Utica that ran through Syracuse, south of Oneida bodies.
SYRACUSE
Lake. However, the marshy areas north of the
Finger Lakes were poorly suited to the needs
To Rochester of an expanded, industrial-sized canal; as a
result, the Canal in the Central region was 1 Today this region of the NYS Barge Canal also includes
SENECA FALLS
the Oswego Canal, a riverine canal that links the Erie
CAYUGA-SENECA Canal with Lake Ontario via the Oswego River, and the
CANAL Cayuga-Seneca Canal, a riverine canal along the Seneca
River that connects Cayuga and Seneca Lakes to each
other and to the Canal.
N Seneca Lake Cayuga Lake
TASK FORCE FINDINGS | 34
Wetland expansion opportunities confirmed that restoration opportunities exist The findings by the Task Force are follows:
at the Montezuma wetlands and Galen Marsh
(largely achievable by restoring floodways and • Identify specific opportunities for wetland
hydrologic connections) and that the Rome expansion in three key locations:
Sand Plains could potentially be expanded -- At Montezuma, study potential
beyond its current borders. The group also restoration of floodways, flowpaths,
noted the lack of regional coordination and creation of new hydrologic
between state/federal wetland managers connections
and Canal management, highlighting this as -- At Galen Marsh, study potential for
a challenge to overcome in order to facilitate enhancing flows in the Clyde River
future restoration efforts. -- At Rome Sand Plains, identify specific
opportunities for westward expansion
The outcomes of the focus group session of wetlands
and The Nature Conservancy analysis were • Develop preliminary designs and assess
presented to the Task Force subcommittee. cost, economic, environmental, and
Some members initially expressed concerns operational implications associated with
about the potential impact of wetlands restoration and expansion of wetlands in
restoration on property values and recreational targeted areas
navigation, however the subcommittee (and
subsequently the full Task Force) ultimately
reached a consensus that wetland restoration
and expansion has the potential to generate
THE CENTRAL REGION substantial ecological and recreational benefits
without negatively impacting navigation or
Restoring and Expanding Wetlands other stakeholders. It was agreed that the
specific opportunities should be studied
further and that potential environmental
and economic impacts should be rigorously
Wetlands traditionally serve a variety of Today, there are opportunities to enhance evaluated.
ecological functions, including providing and expand these wetlands by coordinating
habitat for many species and storing and their management with that of the Canal and
filtering vast quantities of stagnant or slow- by restoring hydrologic connections between
moving water from naturally-overflowing former wetlands and the waterways that
waterways. The Central region of the Erie once fed them.1 To that end, The Nature
Canal is home to three major wetland Conservancy was commissioned to identify
complexes: the Montezuma wetlands, Galen and assess specific restoration opportunities.
Marsh (known locally as the Marengo Swamp), In addition, David Klein, a wetlands expert
and Rome Sand Plains. While these wetlands from The Nature Conservancy, facilitated
are now largely protected as federal and state a focus group consisting of Department of
lands and conservation areas, their volume and Environmental Conservation regional and
utility was impaired during the Barge Canal’s wildlife management area managers, a United
construction. Channelization of natural rivers States Fish and Wildlife Service reserve
isolated them from their water sources and led manager, Cornell University faculty, a Cornell
to a reduction in the natural water table; new Cooperative Extension representative, and
canal infrastructure, such as locks and dams, two Task Force members (Neil Murphy from
blocked waterways and trapped nutrients SUNY-ESF and Chris Lajewski from the
and silt - the movement of which is critical to Montezuma Audubon Center). The group
wetland health.
1 This idea originated from a short-listed submission in
the Reimagine the Canals competition in 2017 by Maria
Goula and Jamie Vanucchi of Cornell University and Montezuma National
Sandi Bastedo of Cornell Cooperative Extension. Wildlife Refuge

35 | REIMAGINE THE CANALS TASK FORCE FINDINGS | 36


Canal watersheds
on navigation, property, or broader ecosystems the spread of AIS has not only environmental
associated with these alternatives but rather benefits, but also economic ones: NYS DEC
to examine the effectiveness of different AIS spends millions annually on mitigating the
LAKE ONTARIO
deterrents using canal infrastructure itself. R2 impacts of invasive species that are already
CHAMPLAIN CANAL engaged dozens of NYS DEC scientists, lake in New York, in an effort to protect recreation,
OSWEGO RIVER association representatives, NGOs, research property, water-dependent businesses, and the
organizations, and academics to better broader ecosystem. Some questioned how the
BARGE CANAL
understand: (1) AIS threats to state waters, State could justify not seizing the opportunity
MOWHAWK RIVER
(2) the successes and failures of existing to prevent the spread of invasive species,
SENECA RIVER
mitigation efforts, and (3) potential deterrent given that the benefits of any Reimagine
approaches. investments would be at risk should invasive
species continue to spread. With one exception,
The R2 report examined a range of the Task Force members came to a general
HUDSON RIVER technologies, identified three alternatives, consensus that ways of combatting invasive
and assessed their suitability for further study species merit further evaluation and that both
based on effectiveness, cost, and permitting alternatives proposed by the consultant and
feasibility. The approach recommended for others should be studied further – including
CANAL WATERSHEDS further study consisted of: analyses of potential navigational impacts and
NATURAL WATERWAYS associated costs and benefits.4
MAN-MADE CONNECTIONS
NEW PATHS FOR INVASIVES
1. Hydrologic separation at Rochester to
protect the Finger Lakes and Oneida Lake The findings by the Task Force are follows:
from invasive species coming from Lake
THE CENTRAL REGION Erie • In cooperation with Department of
2. Hydrologic separation at Rome to protect Environmental Conservation, further
Preventing the Spread of Aquatic Invasive Species the Mohawk and Hudson River Estuary study mechanisms for retrofitting canal
from threats coming from the Great Lakes; infrastructure to establish AIS cordon
3. Piloting a boat lift/wash station in Oswego points with potential locations in Rome,
An aquatic invasive species (AIS) is a superhighway.” Many invasive species have to prevent threats moving from Lake Rochester and Oswego. This study will:
waterborne organism – fish, mollusk or already made their way into state waters, such Ontario to Oneida Lake and the Finger -- evaluate new technologies
vegetation - that causes ecological or as water chestnut, a plant that forms thick Lakes -- assess impacts on through-navigation
economic harm in a new environment where nets that hinder navigation and lower property 4. Installation of a Bio-Acoustic Fish Fence and identify ways to mitigate them
it is not native. AIS outcompete native species values, and zebra mussels, which create (BAFF) near Tonawanda, to deter Asian -- calculate avoided environmental costs
for space and resources, destroying habitats, million-strong colonies that siphon nutrients carp flowing into the Canal from Lake Erie -- identify any alternative or additional
reducing property values, and hindering from water that native species need to survive locations
recreational activities such as fishing, boating, and that clog water conveyance infrastructure. Recognizing that “fail-safe” hydrologic • Further evaluate, with Department of
swimming, and kayaking. Such damage to The threats from AIS are quite literally at the separation at Rochester and Rome would Environmental Conservation, cost and
ecosystems and infrastructure has ripple doorstep (e.g., Asian carp in the Mississippi impact navigation by requiring portage, “dry feasibility of a “bio-acoustic fish fence”
effects across a local economy as the number River Basin but not yet the Great Lakes). Any lock,” or boat lift mechanisms, the Central (BAFF/SILAS) or similar technologies to
and quality of birding, commercial and invasive species in the Great Lakes can, and Region Subcommittee questioned the necessity deter Asian carp near Tonawanda
recreational fishing, and boating opportunities likely will, travel into the internal waters of to undertake such comprehensive measures. • Coordinate with the US Army Corps
diminish.1 New York State, unless preventive measures The consultants indicated that a variety of of Engineers and Department of
are taken.2 technologies can deter the spread of AIS, but Environmental Conservation on existing
AIS invasions can be facilitated when naturally- that only hydrologic separation achieves the AIS mitigation efforts on the Champlain
separated watersheds become connected R2 Resource Consultants, a leading natural highest levels of effectiveness. One Task Force Canal
through human interventions, as in the case of resource consultant, was engaged to identify member questioned the potential economic
the Erie Canal. In connecting the Hudson River ways canal infrastructure might be used to impact of complicating the journey for the 3 Initial estimates using Canal Corporation data for lock
to the Great Lakes, the designers of the Canal stop AIS transport. The analysis was not long-distance boaters who transit those two traffic indicate that only 24 percent of boats (5,100) go
through locks, and only a small fraction of those would
inadvertently created an “invasive species designed to address or consider the impacts points along the Canal.3 Another noted that be impacted by the recommended approach.
the Erie Canal has global recognition, and that
impacts on through-navigation could alter the 4 The representative from the Erie Canal National
1 In the Great Lakes, a hotbed for AIS from global 2 US Army Corps of Engineers is conducting a study and Heritage Corridor expressed his opposition to further
maritime shipping, it is estimated that $200 million per preliminary design of measures to prevent invasive perception of the Canal, and hence its brand. study of the issue as recommended by the remaining
year are lost to AIS. species from being conveyed via the Champlain Canal. Other Task Force members noted that stopping Task Force members.

37 | REIMAGINE THE CANALS TASK FORCE FINDINGS | 38


TASK FORCE FINDINGS

THE MOHAWK
REGION

The Mohawk River Valley, reaching from Creek. In places, the Canal is a man-made
Rome in central New York to Waterford on channel that runs parallel to the river, cutting
the Hudson River, includes some of New York the river off from its northern tributaries; in
State’s most disadvantaged communities. Once others it runs within it and manipulates its
home to a thriving industrial manufacturing flows and depth. Construction of the NYS
sector, post-industrialization in the region Barge Canal in 1918 ‘canalized’ (i.e., made into a
has led to significant economic decline. The canal) the eastern section of the River with the
region also suffers from chronic flooding – a help of movable dams and locks; these dams
function of many factors, both natural and permit Mohawk water levels to be increased
man-made – which undermines property during the navigation season (10-12 feet) to
values. Despite these challenges, there are allow for the passage of commercial barges
Bellamy Harbor Park,
Rome, NY
signs of regeneration across the region. and then returned to normal (4-6 feet) in the
Schenectady, Little Falls, and Utica now boast winter. The riverine nature of this section of
new waterfront developments; a number of the Canal presented the Task Force with an
other Mohawk towns and cities have recently unusual set of challenges and opportunities
Oneida Lake Mohawk Region been selected as winners of the Downtown revolving primarily around potential strategies
ROME Revitalization Initiative (DRI), which provides to address flooding.
To Lake Champlain recipients funding towards economic and
community development.

LITTLE FALLS From a water perspective, the Mohawk River


UTICA CHAMPLAIN
CANAL is the largest tributary of the Hudson River,
with a total length of 155 miles and a drainage
AMSTERDAM
area of 3,462 square miles. Major Mohawk
N
tributaries include West Canada Creek, East
Canada Creek, Oriskany Creek, and Schoharie
CANAJOHARIE

SCHENECTADY
ALBANY Hudson
River
To New York City TASK FORCE FINDINGS | 40
The Ice Jam Panel considered ten potential ice jam flooding is going to occur. Enhancing
interventions and recommended four for this system to better forecast these events
further analysis, noting that more modeling and warn people in advance would be a
work and/or further analysis would need to significant benefit for communities.
be done to determine the specifics of each
intervention as well as their combined impact: The findings by the Task Force are follows:

1. Using specialized ice breakers/cutters to • In conjunction with NYS Office of


physically break up ice jams in hotspot Emergency Management, US Geological
areas Survey, and the National Weather
2. Modifying the Vischer Ferry Dam crest to Service, develop an Early Warning
better manage water flows, and potentially System (EWS) for ice jams in the lower
“flush out” ice jams Mohawk and identify an approach for
3. Modifying the Mohawk River channel developing similar system to address ice
through dredging and filling activities to jams in Herkimer County
alleviate choke points to water flow which • Assess alternative designs, and
contribute to ice jam formation recommend one or more approaches,
4. Deploying an Early Monitoring and for modifying Vischer Ferry Dam with
Warning System that will better predict Obermeyer gates (pneumatically-
ice jam formation and flooding, providing actuated crest gates) to maximize
communities and emergency managers reduction in ice jam and summer
more lead time to prepare for flood events flooding impacts
THE MOHAWK REGION Ice jam at Lock E- 8,
near Schenectady, NY
• Assess (and subsequently recommend)
These potential interventions were presented potential river channel modifications
Mitigating Ice Jams to the Mohawk Region subcommittee and to mitigate ice jams, including
subsequently to the full Task Force by Dr. considerations of negative or positive
Garver of Union College and endorsed by all. impacts on summer flooding and the
A number of Task Force members who live in environment
Ice jams are perhaps the most unique future ice jam formation, and determine ways the Mohawk Valley stressed the importance of • Further quantify effects of using
phenomenon native to this stretch of the that canal and NYPA infrastructure could be mitigating ice jams, not only for the hardest- ice breakers/cutters, including any
Canal. Whereas flooding typically happens used to reduce or eliminate this threat. The hit areas around the Stockade District in downstream impacts, and identify
during springtime melts of snowpack or during Panel was comprised of representatives from Schenectady but also for other areas such as appropriate equipment/deployment
heavy rainfall events at other times of the year, the Canal Corporation, NYPA, US Geological Herkimer and Little Falls. They also noted that locations
ice jams generate flood risk to Mohawk River Service, US Army Corps of Engineers, and the current warning system is ineffective, as
communities during the winter. They typically academic experts - including Task Force emergency managers cannot forecast when
occur when warming temperatures and heavy member Dr. John Garver of Union College.
rains cause snow and ice to melt rapidly. As
river waters rise and river discharge increases, A bathymetric survey of the ice jam-prone
the surface layer of ice breaks into chunks that areas was commissioned by NYPA and used
are carried downstream by the rushing waters; by Dr. Hung Tao Shen of Clarkson University, a
the chunks lodge against one another, pushing global expert in ice jam hydraulics, to develop
river water into communities adjacent to the a highly-sophisticated ice jam model which
jams and causing significant structural and allowed Panel members to better assess
environmental damage, as well as health and both the causes of ice jams and the impact of
safety risks. various potential solutions.1

On behalf of the Task Force, BuroHappold,


with technical assistance from NYPA,
convened an Ice Jam Mitigation Panel to
review the historical ice jam-related flood
1 Prior to this survey, NYPA/the Canal Corporation had Ice jam-related flooding
events in the Mohawk River, identify changes only rudimentary surveys of the bathymetry of the area, in the Stockade District,
in climate and river conditions contributing to rendering any predictive modeling extremely limited. Schenectady, NY

41 | REIMAGINE THE CANALS TASK FORCE FINDINGS | 42


3 Channelization improvements: provides that amount of advance notice and
Using portions of the Canal where the is subject to inherent uncertainties in weather
Mohawk and the Canal are bifurcated forecasting.
(around Little Falls, Herkimer, and between
Rome and Utica) as surge basins during Collectively, the Task Force recognized the
floods, in order to reduce peak flows in the value that flood reduction opportunities
Mohawk River to mitigate flooding in those present, but did not come to a consensus as to
areas. how best to balance the goals of maximizing
flood mitigation and maintaining navigability
Bergmann presented these findings to the for deep-draft (long-distance) boaters. The
Task Force, noting that several of the potential Task Force accordingly recommended further
interventions would impact water levels on evaluation of economic and environmental
the Mohawk portion of the Canal. These costs, benefits, opportunities, and impacts,
interventions would not, however, impact the before a decision is made to pursue one or
majority of local, recreational boaters. more interventions.

The Mohawk Region Task Force Subcommittee Members also asked that further work be done
met multiple times to discuss Bergmann’s to consider compromise positions, such as
potential solutions. Some members welcomed reducing the depth of the Canal to maintain
the ability to adapt canal infrastructure to navigation and limiting full or partial draft
tackle flooding issues related to climate change navigation to a shorter navigation season. The
and capture the ecosystem benefits that result Task Force agreed that the existing forecasting
THE MOHAWK REGION Fort Plain, NY, June 2006
from ‘naturalizing’ a river; others were opposed system needs to be improved to allow

Mitigating Summer Flooding to interventions that could impact the ability


of deep-draft vessels to navigate the Mohawk.
communities and NYS agencies to better plan
for flood events.
It was noted that moving to a more natural
Mohawk River flooding is documented back to potential interventions to reduce flood risk, Mohawk River would not eliminate flooding, but The findings by the Task Force are follows:
the 17th century, but the ‘canalization’ of the model these interventions to assess their would contribute significantly to reducing its
River in the 20th century is generally agreed benefits, and provide associated cost estimates. effects. It was also noted that the interventions • Further evaluate the following
to have exacerbated the problem by placing Bergmann assessed a wide variety of solutions, that would have the highest flood mitigation interventions to use Canal infrastructure
additional structures in the river.1 In recent then undertook analysis of six interventions impact would also have significant ecosystem to mitigate flooding in the Mohawk River,
times, Hurricane Irene (August 2011) and that fell into three categories: benefits. Other Task Force members noted that including assessing positive and negative
Tropical Storm Lee (September 2011) wreaked any intervention that affects water levels in impacts on navigation, local communities
havoc in areas around Schenectady and 1 Infrastructure modifications: the Mohawk could impact businesses (such as and businesses, and the environment:
Amsterdam, wiping out bridges and destroying Modifying Vischer Ferry Dam’s crest marinas, restaurants, and shops), since deep- -- modification of Vischer Ferry Dam
homes; Fort Plain and Canajoharie were flooded by adding gates that can be lowered draft long-distance boaters spend more heavily crest
in July 2006 and June 2013. Most recently, preemptively during a flood to convey water than local boaters and would be forced to shift -- changes to Delta Reservoir operating
heavy rains in late-October 2019 caused downstream, reducing water levels in the to the Champlain stem of the NYS Barge Canal water levels
record-level flooding in Little Falls and Utica. Canal and thus mitigating flooding around system to access the Great Lakes from the -- creation of in-channel stormwater
Climate predictions suggest that the frequency Schenectady. Hudson. retention basins and diversions
of floods in this region will double over the next 2 Operational changes: (between Utica and Rome, Lock E-16
two decades, and that the magnitude of floods a. Reducing the summer water level in Subcommittee members were curious to know and MD 12, and Lock E-18 and MD 14)
will increase by 15 to 20 percent. Delta Reservoir (that feeds water to the more about the flood resilience efforts that the -- changes to movable dam operations
Mohawk River) to provide additional Canal Corporation had undertaken to date. It • Investigate the impact and value
Bergmann Associates, an engineering water retention storage, mitigating was noted that after Hurricane Irene, the Canal of enhancing the Flood Warning
consultancy with expertise in Mohawk River flooding in and downstream of Rome. Corporation retrofitted movable dams in the Optimization System (FWOS) on flood
flood mitigation, was contracted to identify b. Raising movable dams either (a) Mohawk so they could be preemptively raised forecasting and Canal operations
preemptively (prior to storms), or (b) during a flood event to reduce water levels.
1 Although historic preservation focus is on the building permanently to allow the Mohawk River However, this has not proved to be effective
and use of the Erie Canal, Task Force members noted to flow at its natural (lower) water level. because the Canal Corporation requires at least
the rich history of Native Americans and colonial settlers
using the Mohawk River before it was industrialized.
two days’ notice before a storm to alert boaters
on the system; the forecasting system rarely

43 | REIMAGINE THE CANALS TASK FORCE FINDINGS | 44


This research was presented to the Task The findings by the Task Force are follows:
Mohawk River tributaries and the Erie Canal
Force to consider. While concerns were
raised about the strategy’s incompatibility • Evaluate options for a tributary
Delta Reservoir with the maintenance of high water reconnection pilot that has minimal
ROME levels (i.e., deep-draft navigation) in this impact on existing Canal operations
reach of the Canal, the long-term nature • Determine whether tributary
Oneida Lake
and complex mechanics of this suite of reconnections align with the future
interventions was also recognized. There hydrologic state and management
was a consensus that the strategy could regime of the Canal System
have significant ecotourism and ecological • If so, study the feasibility, ecological,
benefits, but that its implementation should operational and economic impact of
be contingent on other Task Force findings. In tributary reconnections
acknowledgement of this contingency, further
study was recommended, beginning with an
UTICA evaluation of pilot reconnection opportunities
that have minimal impact on water levels and
navigation.

To Schenectady
FRANKFORT

THE MOHAWK REGION

Restoring Tributary Connections


with the Mohawk River
The Mohawk River was substantially altered profound, and identified potential reconnection
by the Erie Canal’s construction. Between opportunities using aerial imagery. Identifying
Rome and Frankfort, the Canal was built these potential ‘reconnection reaches’
parallel to the River, which had the effect of allowed the Conservancy to evaluate their
intercepting Mohawk tributaries prior to their feasibility, assuming a future scenario in
connection to the main stem of the River. This which this stretch of the Canal is largely
isolated the Mohawk River from over a third naturalized. Given the nascence and
of its watershed and undermined its natural complexity of restoration techniques, the
flow, impacting water levels, quality, and Conservancy conceived of a phased approach
temperature as well as fish connectivity. The that would start conservatively with the
Nature Conservancy was asked to evaluate simplest reconnections and progress to
the potential to restore the River’s watershed those of increasing ecosystem complexity
and riparian ecosystems in this reach by and ecological benefit. This implementation
reconnecting the disconnected tributaries to sequence was recommended to allow the
the River’s main stem. lead agency to develop experience with such
restoration practices and build trust with other Healthy riparian
The Nature Conservancy concluded that the stakeholders. corridors
impact of reconnecting tributaries could be

45 | REIMAGINE THE CANALS TASK FORCE FINDINGS | 46


TASK FORCE FINDINGS

SYSTEM-WIDE
PLACEMAKING AND
ACTIVATION
Over the last 50 years, upstate New York has seen a Bellamy Harbor Park,
Rome, NY
SYSTEM-WIDE PLACEMAKING

decline in economic activity concurrent with a decline in Operational Improvements


industrial manufacturing and shipping. Once an engine
of New York State’s economic growth, today’s upstate A series of recommended operational • Finish building out a comprehensive set of
improvements were identified over the course trail amenities: The Canal and the Empire
communities are uniformly smaller than being of upstate residents through expanding of Task Force deliberations. These priorities State Trail should be seen as two parts of one
they were a century ago – though they access to outdoor recreation. emerged from discussions among Task Force network. Completion of the Empire State Trail
remain centers of education, health care and members, reports and presentations submitted highlights the need for more trail amenities
government among other industries. Despite Task Force findings aim to capitalize on the by subject matter experts, letters from canal to activate it, connect it to the waterway, and
historic declines in manufacturing industry once momentum that recent state initiatives have constituents, stakeholder focus groups, ensure that it appeals to a broad audience
situated along the Canal, population remains set in motion. The Empire State Trail is close and the Rockefeller Institute’s community that includes local families and youth as well
concentrated along the waterways: roughly 80 to completion - realizing the vision of an engagement events and online platform. as visitors.
percent of New York’s upstate population lives interconnected, state-wide, multi-modal trail • Establish better coordination between
within 25 miles of the four canals that comprise system. New York’s Downtown Revitalization The Task Force found that the Canal entities that have a stake in the Canal:
the NYS Barge Canal system. Initiative, Restore NY, and Local Waterfront Corporation should: With different geographies and hydrologic
Revitalization Program among others now • Serve the needs of existing constituencies conditions across its length, the Canal has
The Reimagine the Canals effort seeks to provide well-organized funding opportunities while appealing to new ones: The NYS many stewards and champions. Enhanced
reverse this long-term decline in population and to help reinvigorate downtowns and waterfront Barge Canal system is widely used by coordination between municipalities, state
offers recommendations to stabilize and grow communities, while Taste NY and I LOVE NY recreational boaters and residents of agencies, non-profits, business owners and
upstate communities and economies. The Task represent marketing efforts that champion canalside communities. Given the presence residents is required to ensure that resources
Force has identified strategies that will use the New York’s products and destinations. The of so many universities across the Erie spine, are well-prioritized and that organizations are
Canal and its companion trail as a catalyst to operational improvements and activation there is an opportunity to expand the Canal’s not competing with one another for them.
support local populations, introduce novel forms opportunities outlined below should be viewed user base to younger and more diverse • Enhance ties to educational institutions
of waterfront development to improve quality as complementary to these efforts, focusing populations. More active forms of outdoor to celebrate the Canal’s history, reimagine
of life, promote economic development through on ways the Canal itself might accelerate and water-based recreation and cultural its future, and engage its ecology: Upstate
tourism that activates canalside properties and revitalization efforts. programming were two of many ways New York is rich in academic institutions,
destinations, and improve the health and well- identified to attract a younger demographic. many of which grew around expertise

47 | REIMAGINE THE CANALS TASK FORCE FINDINGS | 48


Waterford, NY Cayuga Lake
developed during the Canal’s construction. • Enhance the branding, image, and SYSTEM-WIDE PLACEMAKING
whitewater course
Universities and colleges along the Canal advertising for the Canal System: The New
Expanding Water Recreation
at Lock CS-1
corridor can be incubators for new projects, York State Canal System is a historical gem,
ideas and programs to transform the Canal but is largely unknown in the US outside
corridor, while local schools can be tied certain niche audiences. A coordinated
more closely to the waterway as a source of branding and communications strategy is
experiential and academic learning. needed to draw additional visitors from The Canal’s extensive early 20th century at the top of Cayuga Lake adjacent to the
• Maximize connectivity between the other parts of the country and expand the water management infrastructure offers Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, an
Empire State Trail, New York State number of foreign visitors. unique opportunities for 21st century forms outdoor “water park” along the Mohawk
Canalway Water Trail, and adjacent • Find ways of increasing revenue, including of water recreation – e.g., swimming, fishing, River in Utica, a float course and winter ice
communities: More connections – bridges, considering the use of lockage fees: Use kayaking, rafting, floating, ice-skating, and park adjacent to Bellamy Park in Rome, and
pathways, and access points between the of the Erie Canal is free to long-distance Existing conditions paddleboarding in addition to motorized the expansion of waterskiing activities in
trails, canal, and local communities – are boaters, many of whom consider it a “short- boating. Access to water recreation in all of its Amsterdam. These and other opportunities
needed to expand recreational usage, cut” to get from New York to the Great forms can help create world-class destinations, that build on the expanding popularity of
improve quality of life, and ensure that Lakes (without having to travel through the enhance quality of life in local communities, recreational water uses should be evaluated.
local businesses capture benefits from an St. Lawrence Seaway) and all of whom pay and offer youth—as well as people of all
expanded user base. tolls or usage fees elsewhere. Separately, ages and abilities—the chance to learn new Task Force Findings:
• Address the issue of water quality to considerable land along the Canal not skills and stay healthy. New recreational
maximize recreational possibilities and needed for operational purposes lies fallow opportunities can build on the New York State • Develop new water recreation
support municipalities who draw drinking and could be developed. These and other Canalway Water Trail, which runs alongside destinations to attract a more diverse
water from the Canal: Canal infrastructure revenue opportunities should be pursued the Empire State Trail for much of its length audience to the Canal and enhance health
presents unique opportunities to cost- to help offset the cost of maintaining the and incorporates 524 miles of interconnected and well-being
effectively introduce new forms of water Canal. canals, lakes, and rivers.
recreation. Without clean and healthy water,
however, the benefits of these facilities will The Task Force discussed various locations for
be limited and ultimately undermined. new water-based recreational opportunities,
among them a potential whitewater course

49 | REIMAGINE THE CANALS TASK FORCE FINDINGS | 50


SYSTEM-WIDE PLACEMAKING Hydro -powered illumination Adaptive reuse of Guy Park SYSTEM-WIDE PLACEMAKING
of movable dams in the Manor and new connection

Celebrating “Iconic Infrastructure” Destinations Expanding Overnight Accommodation


Mohawk Valley to the Empire State Trail,
Amsterdam, NY

Much of the Canal System’s infrastructure is to redevelopment in former industrial centers Overnight accommodation options along local businesses.1 For those looking to engage
unique to its place and time, and – like the across the globe – for example, Providence, the spine of the Erie Canal are at present with the Canal’s history, the adaptive reuse
Erie Canal before it - represents the ambition Rhode Island’s WaterFire festival or Central uneven – easy to find in the larger cities and of industrial and commercial buildings as
and prowess of the State’s engineering Scotland’s 150-foot Kelpie sculptures. Like towns, but few and far between in smaller and well as private residences offers considerable
heritage. These include locks, movable the historic bridges found in European more rural locations. Enhancing the supply appeal. Unused canal powerhouses, which
dams, lift bridges, guard gates, reservoirs capitals, the Canal offers the authenticity that Existing conditions Existing conditions of lodging options is one way to amplify once provided hydropower to locks, provide
and more. As part of the Erie Armada, a comes with experiencing historic waterway canalside tourism and expand the economic a particularly robust opportunity for
multi-day festival and Reimagine the Canals infrastructure. benefits visitors bring to canalside towns. accommodation. They are located across
competition winner, Lock 30 near Macedon Extending stays mean more engagement with the Canal System, making them ideal for
Canal Park was transformed into an iconic Task Force Findings: cultural and recreational assets, more traffic to long-distance travelers, and were built in a
overnight destination; this included evening restaurants, and more support for a variety of uniform style, offering a distinct branding and
cruises on the Colonial Belle canal boat to • Invest in “iconic infrastructure” retail businesses – from canal tours to shops to marketing opportunity.
experience a temporary lighting installation, destinations that celebrate the future by sporting outfitters.
demonstrating a new model for after-dark drawing attention to the waterway’s past Task Force Findings:
canal engagement. and attracting local visitors and tourists Numerous paths to expanding these options
can be pursued simultaneously. Glampsites, a • Expand overnight accommodation, such
Iconic and interactive lighting installations combination of “glamour” and “camping,” offer as camping, ‘glamping’ and adaptive reuse
represent one among many ways of unique outdoor camping experiences and can of historic structures for hospitality
celebrating these historic structures, by be established on state land along the Canal
offering programming opportunities for local or Empire State Trail in close proximity to 1 The Erie Armada, a multi-day festival and Reimagine
communities and serving as an attraction for the Canals competition winner, featured glamping
tourists year-round. Lighting projects along tents designed by a Buffalo-based interior designer
and enabled festivalgoers to forgo cars and take full
post-industrial waterways have contributed advantage of the wide range of activities that the Erie
Armada offered.

51 | REIMAGINE THE CANALS TASK FORCE FINDINGS | 52


SYSTEM-WIDE PLACEMAKING “Pocket Neighborhood” Connecting the SYSTEM-WIDE PLACEMAKING
development, Canastota, NY College at Brockport to

Transforming Industrial Property the Empire State Trail


Connecting Communities to the Empire State Trail
When it is completed in 2020, the Empire – guard gates, movable dams, and other
The properties along the Canal reflect The Canal Corporation owns thousands of State Trail will be the United States’ longest forms of water control infrastructure – can
its industrial past, with underutilized or acres of upstate land, and has historically multi-use trail, connecting Montreal with New be retrofitted to serve as the backbone for
abandoned warehouses and factories been willing to both grant permits and to York City and Albany with Buffalo. New York pedestrian and bike connections that do not
occupying significant waterfront real estate. sell, lease, or transfer property to facilitate State has already committed $200 million currently exist.
These industrial areas are slowly starting to new canalside projects. More can be done to to completing the project, which will include
be transformed with new types of businesses, incentivize these transformations, building on Existing conditions Existing conditions “gateways” and “trailheads” replete with Task Force Findings:
residences, and recreational opportunities. existing NYS programs such as the Downtown amenities such as parking, picnic tables, and
By transforming the contaminated site of Revitalization Initiative, BOA, Restore NY, and self-service bicycle “fix-it” stations. The Trail’s • Connect local education, cultural and
the defunct American Locomotive Company a series of other grant programs now overseen smooth grade and ADA compliance will make community destinations to the Empire
(ALCO) in Schenectady into a new marina, by the Regional Economic Development it accessible to a wide array of visitors. State Trail
casino, hotel, retail, offices, and homes, the Councils (REDCs) for each region. The
Mohawk Harbor project points the way Canastota Pocket Neighborhood, a Reimagine Yet connections between the Trail and the
towards a vibrant, mixed-use future for the the Canals competition winner being communities through which it passes between
revitalized canal waterfront. Smaller towns undertaken by Madison County, provides one Albany and Buffalo remain uneven, and in
have also seen waterfront transformations, model; it will offer townhomes and cottages, some places are convoluted or non-existent.
including the Residences at Canalside, which communal workspaces and gardens, walking In Brockport, for example, the Trail along the
extends Fairport’s walkable downtown, and paths to nearby shops and restaurants, and Canal runs opposite the College at Brockport,
the continued investments made at Pittsford’s direct access to the Canal. but its students cannot access it directly.
Schoen Place, widely considered one of the Here and in other places, canal infrastructure
most charming spots on the entire Canal. Task Force Findings:

• Facilitate canalside development on Canal


Corporation-owned land and other public
and private lands

53 | REIMAGINE THE CANALS TASK FORCE FINDINGS | 54


TASK FORCE FINDINGS

THE FUTURE

Waterways have played a prominent role in societies


throughout time; indeed the industries they
fostered and the trade they facilitated form a large
part of the story of civilization. Across the gone, its extraordinary network of robust
United States, vestiges of late nineteenth and water control infrastructure can, as it was in
early twentieth-century canals, waterside the early 20th century, be reimagined – and
factories, and mills pay homage to the adaptively reused to meet the 21st century
industrial revolution that transformed a largely challenges that threaten upstate communities.
unpopulated and unheralded place into a The Task Force’s findings identify just some of
global superpower. No example of this rich the opportunities at hand: water for irrigation,
history is more recognized than the man- fishing, and ecological restoration, and
made Erie Canal, a symbol of the ingenuity, infrastructure for place-making and to combat
determination and political will, that made our invasive species, ice jams, and flooding.
nation. Undoubtedly, further reflection and study will
identify more.
In contrast to the silent mills, crumbling
dams, and remnants of canals that can today As one member of the Task Force noted, the
be found in post-industrial towns across question that confronts us is no longer “what
America, the Erie Canal offers something is the canal for?,” but rather “who is it for?”
wholly unique: it is still functioning. Though The Task Force answered that question clearly,
its mission as a commercial waterway is long in acknowledging that the waterway no longer

Interactive lighting
installations to connect to
the Empire State Trail
55 | REIMAGINE THE CANALS TASK FORCE FINDINGS | 56
TASK FORCE FINDINGS

serves anonymous barges making their way will new resources – for scientific studies, for
between New York City and the Great Lakes community engagement, and for the physical
markets but now needs to be deployed to interventions that this report has identified.
improve the lives of people in the communities
of upstate New York. This report sets the Adapting the Canal for the next century does
stage for an ambitious reimagining of the not mean walking away from its past. To the
Canal as a local amenity and an attraction for contrary, addressing the challenges of climate
both old and new constituencies – a source of change, invasive species, and water quality
newfound resilience, a pillar of cultural identity, is perhaps the safest way to ensure that this
and an engine of economic development. unique waterway recaptures its historic role as
an economic engine for those who live along
Though the direction of further ‘reimagining’ its path – strengthening local economies,
work is clear, the process of identifying and reducing vulnerability to flooding, protecting
then implementing the specific programs and and reviving ecosystems, and ensuring healthy
interventions that will bring most value to levels of investment across its reach. New
communities will be challenging. Protecting York has always been a national leader in
canalside towns from the ravages of climate progressive and creative thinking: successfully
change will demand new ways of using the ushering in the “third coming” of the iconic
State’s most precious resource – its water – Erie Canal will provide a global example of how
and new ways of operating the infrastructure the past can once again be put towards the
that carries it across the State. Maximizing service of the future.
economic development in communities
abutting the Canal will require new and
different forms of investment than those that
have historically served to maintain the Canal
in its original state.

The issues are complex and technical,


and solutions are unlikely to be without
controversy due to the wide range of
stakeholders involved. Balancing the interests
of those who rely on the Canal for their health,
safety and quality of life – floodplain residents,
waterfront property owners, hikers and
boaters, fishermen and birders – with those
who rely on it for business – developers and
retailers, tour companies and marina operators
– will not be easy. Thoughtful collaboration
and inclusive discussion at a scale much wider
than that undertaken by the Task Force will be
required over the coming years. Compromises
will need to be found and agreed upon; so too

Potential walkway across


the Waterford Flight

57 | REIMAGINE THE CANALS TASK FORCE FINDINGS | 58


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
proposed the idea for using the Canal for concepts. Lighting design and visualization
irrigation of western NY farms and then was provided by Enrique Peiniger, Jean
studied the possibilities in great detail. Sundin, and Markus Fuerderer at the
Thomas McDonald, a NYS Outdoor Fishing Office for Visual Interaction. The Brockport
Guide and Waterways Dam Safety Manager Loop bridge designs and visualization
at NYPA, developed strategies for enhancing were developed as part of a related pre-
recreational fishing in Western New York. feasibility study that included designs
by WXY Architecture and Urban Design,
Various staff members from New York State SHoP Architects, CLUAA, and John Ronan
agencies were appointed by their respective Architects as well as engineering support
commissioners to serve on the Task Force. from Davood Liaghat at BuroHappold
They provided valuable information on Engineering.
existing state initiatives and knowledge to
the Task Force on various issues discussed. Stephanie Obkirchner from Amsterdam, NY
These staff members included Brian Stratton contributed the image on the back cover of
from the Canal Corporation, Matt Marko the report and the Erie Canalway National
The Reimagine the Canals Task Force would like to from NYS Department of Environmental Heritage Corridor shared the photograph of
Conservation, David Valesky from NYS the Albany Symphony’s 2017 Water Music
extend special thanks to a diverse group of people Department of Agriculture and Markets, event in Amsterdam on pg. 20.
and organizations, without whom this report could Sarah Crowell from NYS Department of
State, Ross Levi, Tamara Mayberry, Jim The work in this report could not have been
not have been accomplished. Fayle and Daniel Kolinski from Empire State
Development, and Alane Ball-Chinian, Robert
done without the expertise and cooperation
of the staff at the New York Power Authority
Hiltbrand, Mark Mistretta, and Daniel Mackay and the New York Canal Corporation, among
The Rockefeller Institute at the State University and Dr. John Garver from Union from NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and many others Gil Quiniones, Joseph Kessler,
University of New York ably mounted and College lent their unique expertise in ice jam Historic Preservation. Kimberly Harriman, Thomas McDonald,
delivered a comprehensive program of hydrology to develop ice jam models based Cindy Brady, Alex Brey, James Candiloro, Rob
outreach to canal stakeholders, led by Laura on new bathymetric surveys of the Mohawk The SUNY College of Environmental Science Daly, Robert Knowlton, Peter Ludewig, Brian
Schultz and Robert Magna, during the Valley as members of the Ice Jam Mitigation and Forestry, The College at Brockport, Saez, Frank D’Eufemia, Chris Carey, Steve
summer of 2019. In addition to organizing five Panel. The rest of the ice Jam Mitigation the Rochester Chamber of Commerce, the Gosset, John Joyce, Erin Nolan, Randy Kreus,
public workshops across the Canal corridor, Panel participants included Stephen Couch Rockefeller Institute of Government, the Jeff Cohen, Darby Racey, Sharon Leighton,
the Institute hosted an online platform for and Roman Rakoczy from the US Army Corps NYS Fairgrounds, Orleans County Tourism, Jackie Schillinger, Sasha Eisenstein, and most
the public to provide input and comments for of Engineers, Chandler Engel and Joseph and Orleans County Cornell Cooperative notably Howard Goebel - whose decades of
the future of the Canals. This robust public Rocks from Cold Regions Research and Extension generously provided space and experience with the Canals and dedication to
engagement process was critical to ensuring Engineering Laboratory, Chris Gazoorian catering that facilitated multiple task force the Reimagine the Canals initiative has been
that a wide cross-section of voices were from US Geological Survey, as well as experts meetings and stakeholder focus group integral to this effort.
heard by the Task Force. Additionally, the from NYPA and Canal Corporation. Kenneth sessions.
Task Force would like to thank stakeholders Avery and Jim Guistina from Bergmann And, finally, for bringing together dozens of
who participated in focus groups, generously Associates and Bo Juza from Aquatrend, LLC Graphic support was provided by many stakeholders, managing multiple technical
lending their expertise to relevant lent their extensive engineering expertise talented firms and individuals. The graphic consultants, and providing insights, ideas,
discussions. with the Canal to identify potential strategies design and layout of this report document and enthusiasm, the Task Force would like to
to mitigate flooding in the Mohawk Valley. was provided by Pure+Applied with the thank the staff of its secretariat BuroHappold
The work in this report relies in large part on Dr. Andrew Peck, Rebecca Shirer and Kristen talent of Paul Carlos and Ciara Mitchell. Engineering, working under the direction
the skill and insight of technical consultants. France at The Nature Conservancy identified Drone photography was provided by Lenny of Kate Ascher, including: Adam Friedberg,
Dana Postlewait and MaryLou Keefe at R2 potential opportunities for restoring tributary Pridatko. Matthew Urbanski and Jack Ohly Sabina Uffer, Alice Shay, Shivam Jumani, Josh
Resource Consultants performed a thorough connections to the Mohawk River; The at Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Margul, Ian Nicholson, David Bigio, Anna
analysis of potential strategies to prevent Nature Conservancy’s David Klein identified (MVVA) provided input on the concepts for Hippee, Samantha Fox, Huanyu Chen, and
the spread of aquatic invasive species and assessed specific wetland restoration iconic destinations and creative adaptive Luyun “Aurora” Shao.
through the Canal System. Dr. Hung Tao opportunities. Dr. Steven Shaw at SUNY reuse of Canal infrastructure and generated
Shen and Dr. Fengbin Huang at Clarkson College of Environmental Science and Forestry the rendering visualizations for these

59 | REIMAGINE THE CANALS ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS | 60


APPENDICES
APPENDIX A

Technical Analysis and Sub-consultants


A wide group of sub-consultants, shown
below, were commissioned to undertake
technical analysis for each of the topics under
evaluation by the Task Force subcommittees.

Region Topic Consultant Report title


Mohawk Region Mitigating summer Bergmann Associates Mohawk Flood
flooding Assessment Report

Eliminating ice jams Ice Jam Mitigation Panel comprised of Ice Jams in the Mohawk
US Geological Service, US Army Corps of River Valley
Engineers, Dr. John Garver (Union College),
Dr. Hung Tao Shen and Dr. Fengbin Huang
(Clarkson University), Canal Corporation,
NYPA
Restoring previously The Nature Conservancy Restoring Tributary and
disconnected tributaries River Connections in the
to the Mohawk River Mohawk Valley

Central Region Preventing the spread of R2 Resource Consultants Erie Canal Aquatic
aquatic invasive species Invasive Deterrent Study
through the Canal System

Restoring and creating The Nature Conservancy Restoring Wetlands in the


wetlands Central New York Canal
Region

Western Region Expanding irrigation Dr. Stephen Shaw, SUNY’s College of Expanding Irrigation in
Environmental Science and Forestry Western New York Using
Canal Water

Enhancing recreational Thomas McDonald, NYPA Opportunities for


fishing Enhancing Recreational
Fishing in Western NY

Additionally, SUNY’s Rockefeller Institute of Government report on the community engagement process is available here.

Light installation and programming


61 | REIMAGINE THE CANALS at Erie Armada in Macedon, NY
APPENDICES
• Matt Marko, NYSDEC • Steven Pearson, NYSDEC
• Emily Sheridan, NYSDEC • Justin Perry, NYSDEC
APPENDIX B • Elizabeth Tracy, NYSDEC • Emily Sheridan, NYSDEC
• Jean Foley, NYSDEC • Alexander J. Smith, NYSDEC
Stakeholder Meetings and Focus Groups • Jana Lantry, NYSDEC
• Mike Wasilco, NYSDEC
• Robert Breault, USGS
• Katherine Czajkowski, NYSDEC
• Frank Morlock, NYSDEC • Judy Drabecki, NYSDEC
BuroHappold organized stakeholder Recreational fishing • Scott Healy, NYSDEC • Frances Dunwell, NYSDEC
meetings, phone calls and focus groups • Ron Bierstine, Oak Orchard Tackle & • Bill Stewart, US Fish and Wildlife Service • Heather Gierloff, NYSDEC
on specific topics to further explore the Lodge, Task Force member • Maria Goula, Cornell University • Gregg Kenney, NYSDEC
concepts raised in the public workshop • Jessie Hollenbeck, Wide Sky Fly Fishing • Jamie Vanucchi, Cornell University • Sandra Keppner, USFWS
sessions and garner input on opportunities • Dave Agness, Trout Unlimited/OASIS • Sandi Bastedo, Cornell Cooperative • Jacqueline Lendrum, NYSDEC
being addressed by the Task Force. A list Adaptive Sports/Project Healing Waters Extension • Josh Thiel, NYSDEC
of people involved in these meetings and Fly Fishing • Eric Wiegert, NYSDEC
related calls follows. • Lindsay Agness, Lindsay Agness Fly Invasive species • Cathy McGlynn, NYSDEC
Fishing Guide Service • Matt Snyder, Oneida Lake Association
Water recreation • Danny Evans, Lone Wolf Sport Fishing • Kristen Holleck, Cornell Biological Field Irrigation and Agriculture
• Marie Cramer, Canal New York, Task • Web Pearsall, NYSDEC Station • David Valesky, NYS Agriculture and
Force member • Dawn Borchert, Orleans County Tourism • Hilary Lambert, Cayuga Lake Watershed Markets
• Maureen Doyle, Central NY Waterways, Director Network • David Wolfe, Cornell Institute for Climate
Task Force member • John DeFilipps, Orleans County Legislator • Jennifer Tufano Grillo, Cayuga Lake Smart Solutions, Task Force member
• Leslie Becraft-Corrigan, Winter Harbor • Ken DeRoller, Orleans County Legislator Watershed • Amanda Krenning-Muoio, NYS Farm
Marina, Task Force member • Kristin King, Western New York PRISM Bureau, Task Force member
• Bruce Van Hise, Corn Hill Navigation/ Trail recreation • Andrea Locke, Western New York PRISM • Elizabeth Buck, Cornell Cooperative
Sam Patch Tours, Task Force member • Andy Beers, Empire State Trail, Task • Hilary Mosher, Finger Lakes PRISM Extension
• John Courain, Genessee Waterways Force member • Gwendolyn Grace Temple, Capital-Mohawk • Katie Sommerfeldt, Orleans County Soil &
Center, Task Force member • Robin Dropkin, Parks and Trails NY, Task PRISM Water Conservation District
• Kim Russo, America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Force member • Rob Williams, SLELO PRISM • Ken DeRoller, Orleans County Legislator
Association • Bob Radliff, Erie Canalway National • Meg Modley, Lake Champlain Basin • John DeFilpps, Orleans County Legislator
• Barb Castor, Boaters Industry Heritage Corridor, Task Force member Program • Craig Kahlke, Cornell Cooperative
Association of Upstate NY • John Robinson, Our Ability, Task Force • Kathy Moser, Open Space Institute Extension
member • Rick Relyea, Rensselaer Polytechnic • Jeff Toussaint, Toussaint Farms
Historic preservation • Derrick Pratt, Erie Canal Museum, Task Institute • Alan Panek, Panek Farms
• Bob Radliff, Erie Canalway National Force member • Ian Smith, Finger Lakes Institute • Peter Martin, Kreher Family Farms
Heritage Corridor, Task Force member • Sasha Eisenstein, Canal Corporation • Stuart Gruskin, The Nature Conservancy • Maureen Torrey, Torrey Farms
• Derrick Pratt, Old Erie Canal Community • Kathy Moser, Open Space Institute • Brittney Rogers, The Nature Conservancy • Gary Kludt, Kludt Brothers, Inc.
Working Group, Task Force member • Lindsay Chatterton, The Nature • Adam Kirby, A & J Farms
• Jean MacKay, Erie Canalway National Wetlands restoration Conservancy • Jim Kirby, A & J Farms
Heritage Corridor • David Klein, The Nature Conservancy • Steve Hurst, NYSDEC • Steve Nesbitt, Nesbitt Fruit Farms
• Erin Tobin, Preservation Society of NYS • Neil Murphy, SUNY-ESF, Task Force • Aimee Clinkhammer, NYSDEC • Oded Kalir
• Jay DiLorenzo, Preservation Society of NYS member • Jean Foley, NYSDEC • Mike Kreher, Kreher Family Farms
• Chris Lajewski, Montezuma Audubon • Jana Lantry, NYSDEC • Amy Machamer, Hurd Orchards
Center, Task Force member • David Lemon, NYSDEC
• Matt Marko, NYSDEC

63 | REIMAGINE THE CANALS APPENDICES | 64