Author Topic: What happens when Erie Canal Embankment Dams become over-saturated?  (Read 37 times)

Doug K

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Contrary to what some folks might be saying about Erie Canal Embankments, you really can't understand what affect having an Earthen Dam can have on neighboring properties, until you actually become a neighbor of the Erie Canal.

And not a neighbor living "above the waterline" but one that is actually having to deal with where all that water can go over the course of a "canal season".

If you are not a regular reader of the ECNA you should read this post to see how this discussion started. It's about the early Erie Canal dewatering that has occurred this year. Some communities located EAST of Genesee River have already seen an empty canal, while those living WEST of Rochester have a full one.!/msg1352/#msg1352

In that last post it was mentioned how the Erie Canal's annual de-watering event, that happens around the end of November each year, is done to protect locks and other canal structures but also gives the Phreatic Line a rest. This phreatic line is basically the separation between the dry earth on top, and the heavily saturated earth below the Phreatic surface. That lower dirt is under constant leakage from the water being impounded inside the Erie Canal.

So what happens when the Phreatic Line get "super saturated", like when we see a hard rain?

The easy answer is... an Erie Canal Embankment Flood happens. Here's a few pictures of one we had here.

Now in the spirit of full disclosure & transparency, this is the tallest section of the almost 400' of Canal Embankment we are adjacent to. It is about 18-20 feet tall and the bottom of the canal is above the ground level you see. There are also three marked leaks that are being monitored by the NY State Canal Corporation staff on a regular basis.

But this oversaturated earthen dam issue exists, even on a smaller height dam section. The picture below is on the west side of our property and shows the EXACTLY the same issue... and this section has no marked leaks. I also deepened the Toe Drain myself by almost one foot to collect the water better and keep it from overrunning our driveway some 250' feet away.

So there you have it... flooding along the Erie Canal is real, and most times the people walking on the top trail never see it...because it's raining out.

It's a problem that Canal Neighbors have, along with tree-covered, unsafe embankments, all of which present a clear & present danger to those neighbors living below the waterline of the Erie Canal.

So those of you who are listening to Facebook groups tell you that the Erie Canal is safe, that there is nothing wrong with it and no danger in having tree-covered embankment dams running through our communities, I will tell you that those people do NOT consider the plight of the hundreds of adjacent neighbors living below these over-saturated earthen dams, or the urban crawl that has grown beyond these homeowners.

For a moment, just imagine a 80 foot tall tree growing on a 30 foot tall embankment that is over-saturated and unable to keep those tree roots securely in place. We all know what happens here... those trees with water-logged roots tend to blow over in a strong wind.

Now think of all that canal water pushing on that new hole from the inside, where a tree used to be. That's 875,000 gallons of water per 100' of canal length that is ready to plow through that cavity.

What do you think could happen if a hole suddenly appeared in the side of an Erie Canal Earthen Embankment?

More importantly... if the Canal Embankment Dam does breaks, will it flood your home?
« Last Edit: May 03, 2021, 03:35:08 am by Michael Caswell »

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