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Final Thoughts on Erie Canal Embankments & Trees


Doug K:
Sharing some final thoughts on the Erie Canal’s unsafe embankment tree issues we have been watching unfold for the past few years. In the end it comes down to facts & the simple truth, and what REAL experts have to say about trees, dams, & public safety.

There are those in the community that want to say the Erie Canal is fine, there is no safety issue with the banks, the trees along the banks are not hurting the embankment structure, and the NY Canal Corporation is just “fear-mongering”, just trying to spend tax-payer dollars taking trees away that provide shade & “oxygen”. These people are NOT Dam Engineers or Experts in the science of Hydrology, they are just people with strong opinions but no supporting evidence to substantiate their claims.

Some in our community say that the words Unsafe Canal Embankments matter, that is what the NY Canal Corporation Leadership has told many of the Canal Neighbors who live along the 335 mile waterway. Though we may not like some of the changes, safety of our property, our lives & our neighbors is paramount. We will work with the Canal Corporation to restore privacy some have lost using their suggested natural barrier screening, others may eventually need fences.

The New York State government’s reply was to create a NY Canal Corporation Earthen Embankment Integrity Program to address the Erie Canal safety. Those issues were first uncovered back in 2014 and are just getting fixed today. Quite a bit of time & money has gone into this embankment effort, an effort that is dedicated to the safety of the Public by repairing the current issues with the overgrown raised earthen dams that line the Erie Canal for some 125 miles. The biggest issue is still the inability to get proper Dam Safety Inspections performed due to the thick woody overgrowth on many raised earthen dams it owns.

Each mile of these uncleared earthen canal dams are a threat to the local community & the safety of the residents.
In addition the integrity of the waterway is also at risk… there is NO question about these two statement. It is at the heart of all discussion past, present & future with the Canal Corporation & it’s parent…the New York Power Authority.

The Final Word…

The NY Canal Corporation, Rizzo Engineering (company who conducted the last thorough canal inspection), The NY State Comptroller’s Office, and the Governor of the State of NY have ALL agreed that there is a definite safety issue on the Canal, and that the best way to fix the issue, and restore public safety, is to remove the large vegetation growing on these earthen dams, all 125 miles of them, eventually.

It will take so long to fix the embankment issues that the work can’t be defined as a single project anymore.. it has become a new PROGRAM being managed by the NY Canal Corp.+

In the end it comes down to four words folks… Earthen Dam Tree Failure.


If there are no negative issues related to these four words together, the internet search should come up empty. If there is a list of websites that relates trees and dam failures then those pages or publications should be read to see if trees help or hurt on embankment dams.
If there are no facts supporting Earthen Dam failures being caused or created by trees then the search should come back with little to say about safety, or that trees are a problem on EARTHEN dams. Note the word safety is NOT in the original search so anything related to safety-trees-dams should be read as well.
If trees roots actually help to “strengthen” the earthen dams (as some have falsely stated) then there should be plenty to read on that subject as well. Many have made this claim as it relates to trees on a normal hillside, and tried to apply here, but trees on EARTHEN DAMS are a special case scenario as the four word search will reveal.

Now if TREES on earthen dams DO cause dam failures or safety issues then one would expect to find an endless list of articles, publications, and expert testimony supporting the statement that Trees on earth built dams are a SAFETY concern & create the potential for a flood. This is EXACTLY what you will find... many many articles stating over * over that trees are a safety issue on Earthen Dams, and how to best manage that problem.

Search those words yourself to find the truth, the results will make you reconsider who you listen to about Erie Canal Embankment Safety in the future. Some have it completely wrong, like the Facebook group Stop the Canal Clear Cut. Some like the NYCC & ECNA are on target.

There are a quite few Publications & Documents that get highlighted with this simple FOUR WORD SEARCH…try it.

What REAL Dam Experts & Engineers are saying:

Here’s a nice white paper by a past leading expert in Dam Safety, Bruce Tschantz, search his name as well to verify credentials as an expert.

I have taken the highlights of his work to a single picture so you can understand what just about EVERY expert on Dam Engineering & Safety knows: Trees have no place on Earthen Dams.

I also found Summary of Dam Safety policies from many states, they all seem to be summed up with this picture of what causes most Earthen Embankment Dam Failures. By the way, ALL THREE of these issues have already been inspected and found along the NYS Canalway in our area.

As you can by this simple internet search on dams failures & trees  there is overwhelming evidence that large trees & brush on earthen dams not only inhibit proper dam inspections but also create an environment where animals can burrow and tree roots can cause seeping which both lead to breaches & floods. Most of the search results lead to FEMA, The Army Engineer Corp, or some other National or State Dam Safety group that all seem to agree that Trees & Dams do not make “good neighbors”.

Here’s a list that covers just about all aspects of the perils of woody vegetation covering earthen dams. This was from a New Hampshire publication but just about every other publication I’ve read has a similar list.

The only safe vegetative covering for Earthen Embankment Dams is plain old grass.

It is that simple…yet many “non-experts” just don’t want to believe it or accept this truth. Earthen Dams are ONLY safe if they are covered with green grass. I for one can’t understand why it’s so hard to understand this… you only need to search for “earthen dam tree failure”.

Here’s a few other Documents that cover the topic of Earthen Dams & Proper Vegetation…many have pictures showing unsafe earthen dams. Worth a look if you are interested in finding the truth about canal embankments, danger trees or even the truth about a group calling themselves Stop the Canal Clear Cut. Go search these words yourself and let others know the truth once you see it for yourself.


US Army Corps of Engineers

US Bureau of Reclamation

Enough said about Trees on Earthen Dams being a safety issue, if you can't understand it by now then you probably never will.


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