Author Topic: Cottonwood Trees on Embankment Dams  (Read 16 times)

Michael Caswell

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Cottonwood Trees on Embankment Dams
« on: April 07, 2019, 06:13:05 am »
I was just scanning through some articles on our Erie Canal Facts web page www.eriecanalfacts.wordpress.com
and came across the article on Vegetation removal and SEQR, (that's the court case thing).

https://eriecanalfacts.wordpress.com/2018/03/03/the-dispute-about-vegetation-removal-and-seqr/

If you scroll down to the section about Cottonwood trees, you'll learn a lot about them.  What particularly struck me was the mention of the root systems causing piping, a phenomenon where the roots rot away and leave tube voids in the soil. Of course, this is very dangerous because water will quickly flow through these tubes and cause a dam failure.
Several STCC  members have said that it's never happened before and generally scoffed at the idea. And of course, they would probably be correct, because there are no reported incidents on the Erie Canal where this has happened.

I was discussing this with a neighbor yesterday, and I mentioned to him that the Oxbow trail and the Oxbow Embankment Dam were devoid of trees in the 1930s, where there is photographic evidence to prove this. Here were are some 80-90 years later and we have hundreds of Cottonwoods, some 150 feet tall, coming to the end of their life cycle. That means those roots are still alive and still growing.
When these trees die, the roots will still be there for quite a few years, even though Cottonwoods rot easily and quickly, so we won't have experienced a failure due to this, it's too early in their life cycle.

If nothing is done about it, the piping problem will very commonplace, the canal could leak like a sieve. Embankment failure will be commonplace, it just a matter of 'when' not 'if'.
« Last Edit: April 07, 2019, 06:17:08 am by Michael Caswell »

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Doug K

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Re: Cottonwood Trees on Embankment Dams
« Reply #1 on: April 07, 2019, 11:12:31 am »
Actually, there is a "novel" solution to the potential piping issues caused by rotting Cottonwood roots & dams....

It's called vegetation free, safe, embankment dams, and they are coming to everyone's Erie Canal Neighborhood soon....





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