Author Topic: They pulled the drain plug on the Erie Canal - really early!  (Read 62 times)

Michael Caswell

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They pulled the drain plug on the Erie Canal - really early!
« on: November 28, 2020, 11:24:43 am »
Has anyone noticed how early the NYPA drained the canal this year?  It's almost a month sooner than normal, usually just after Thanksgiving.

And just take a look at it today, it's almost bone dry, only a couple of buckets worth of water left in it.

Meanwhile, all along the canal where they have completed the EEIP work (chopped the trees & brush down) the canal is FULL! This means the NYPA considers the embankment to be SAFELY & FULLY RESTORED.

So, what's going on?

Mr. Doug K  says, "I heard the canal may stay filled here all year long on the western end. Too bad Perinton, Pittsford and Brighton sued to keep unsafe embankments from being cleared. Those communities can thank the STCC (Stop The Clear Cut Ms Agte & Co) for the early canal draining."

Could it be that this is the first sign of the impending restoration of our section of the canal (from Pittsford to Fairport)?

They'd need to make sure there was absolutely no chance of a flood, while they do the dangerous work of removing very large trees and roots from this particularly steep canal embankment. 

It's all to do with the PHREATIC LINE

And making sure the soil is completely dry, I'm sure.

I believe there will be some activity early in The New Year. Personally, I am looking forward to seeing the panoramic view of all the trees in the valley below. Apparently, in days gone by, it was considered quite a feature by the folks on the barges.

If you look at the tree line in this photo, (Oxbow Lake) you'll see there is quite a noticeable dip in the height of the tops of those trees located in the center.

And on the other side of the embankment, you can see a patch of ground which is almost bare of vegetation (Google maps). This is the exact spot where the canal breached circa 1912, and I believe all the good soil was washed out, consequently the vegetation is somewhat stunted.

Or could it be that the center of the Oxbow Lake Embankment Dam is slowly failing and sinking towards an eventual breach & flood, that is called a "slump".

Time will tell which of these has happened.

« Last Edit: November 29, 2020, 12:46:43 pm by Doug K »

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Doug K

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Mike, you are absolutely right on this one... last year there was water in your section just about all winter long if I remember.

For the past few seasons the New York State Canal Corporation has "de-watered" The Erie Canal in the week after Thanksgiving along most of the State. Sometime they might refill to test repairs they have made at the start of their winter maintenance season. It just might be that the new owners of the NYS Canal System are preparing for the Clearing & Rehabilitation of the miles of UNSAFE earthen embankments in your area.

New York Power Authority (NYPA) & the New York State Canal Corporation (NYSCC) just might want more time to allow their dams to "dry out" before they start driving large equipment on the Empire State Canal Trail that is needed for cutting & hauling all those trees. They may have learned their lesson from the muddy mess they created on the western end trail, when they cleared unsafe trees in 2018/2019.

We are full here, take a look.

It could be they will drain the canal this coming week out here, but their own Profile Map and past statements may hold another clue.

Part of the Reimagine the Canals effort (by NYPA & NYSCC) have stated they are trying to replenish the natural water supply NORTH of the Canal that has been shutoff for the past 200 years by the Canal itself. Keeping this western section of the Erie Canal full, for a LONGER time, will allow farmers in the area to start tapping into canal water many miles away from the actual canal itself.

The Canal Corporation only needs to open existing drain gates that will fill local streams & rivers (that cross under or through the waterway) to accomplish this simple irrigation task. Don't be surprised if the Erie/Barge Canal remains open all year long west of Rochester, in an attempt to see if this Canal Irrigation Plan is possible and can be sustained without causing any winter damage to the waterway.

Also, don't be surprised if this causes many local businesses to change how and where they operate, especially companies like the Colonial Belle, who could have a nice place to "winter" their ship in Brockport and keep their restaurant service open. All it takes is a bubbler system to keep a steel hulled ship in the water year round.

« Last Edit: November 29, 2020, 10:47:33 am by Doug K »

Doug K

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The ECNA posts have mentioned this Phreatic Line quite a bit, but to some it might still be a mystery. So I have a couple nice pictures to explain it and also show what happens when the phreatic line starts to fail on an embankment dam. These pictures & videos are taken in my own backyard which has a 20 foot tall leaking canal embankment in the eastern corner of our two acre lot.

Go to this webpage to see a great  explanation of the Phreatic Line -

Basically all earthen dams work the same way. They leak LOTS of water from the water-filled side of the dam, through all of the earth used to build the embankment. Dam Leaking starts BELOW the waterline of the impounded water, and will eventually leak away at the base of the earthen dam known as the Toe of Slope. Along the Erie Canal any embankment that is about 16-18' tall should have water coming out where the outside slope of the earthen dam meets the original level ground.

Most places along the Erie Canal embankment collect this leaking water in a ditch called the Toe Drain. This drain carries leaking canal water back into culverts or creeks and into the general aquifer system. After awhile the lower sections of all earthen dams become so saturated that the top soil becomes full of water and can't even take even a normal rainfall. All of this water will eventually find it's way into these Toe Drains.

Normally the leak is very slow, like in the image below that shows a 20' tall dam section with a leaking Phreatic Line.

There are three marked leaks in this embankment and all 3 leaks are located about 24-30" above the bottom floor of the canal. If you look across the pink marked stakes that were placed in this section, by the NYS Canal Corporation in 2019 during their first canal inspection in 75 years, you will note that this leak is about 25-35 feet long as well.

In 2019 the NYS Canal Corporation Embankment Restoration Project removed trees that had died on the embankment and were over 80 feet tall. This leak is most likely caused by old roots and piping that is now moving water along old dead roots and that water has breached out of it's normal Phreatic Line.

So there you have it, a brief explanation of the Phreatic Line and why it's critical to be able to see if it's working properly.

This Phreatic Line in this section if dam is compromised and is now being monitored by the NYS Canal Corporation to see if flow eventually slows. If it gets worse, there are ways to insure the embankment will not break using steel barrier walls.

The most important part of any Erie Canal Embankment is most likely this "unseen" part that can cause an entire dam to collapse if not maintained properly or identified with line of sight inspections. Those inspections are IMPOSSIBLE to perform with canal embankment covered with trees & underbrush, which is why the Canal Corporation has now undertaken a new Embankment Integrity Program to clear these old dams, and perform proper inspections to identify more leaks like these three.

Here's our leak when it's full and ready to become our winter skating pond.

Our canal leak went "unclaimed" for 20+ years, while the NYS Canal Corporation denied it was "their water" flooding our yard. Once the NYS Canal Ownership changed in 2017, to the New York Power Authority, the new owners have not only taken ownership of this leak, they have also cleared 27 miles of other leaking canal embankment sections, that are keeping many canal neighbors in danger.

These new owners, NYPA,  seem to be putting Erie Canal Safety & Sustainability, and the safety of Canal Neighbors FIRST on their list, which is a welcome change for many neighbors who have complained about overgrown embankments and leaky water for years and have gone unheard until now.

It is no secret that the amount of active Erie Canal leaks being monitored by the NYSCC, since they have started their Embankment Integrity Program, has grown five-fold. Those leaks are now being monitored, and corrective action can be taken, if and when needed, to avert a catastrophic flood in many areas west of Rochester. Many leaks like this are still undetected and growing worse over time. Each has the potential to be the next Erie Canal disaster that makes the National News cycle

There are still 100 miles of unsafe canal embankments that still need to be cleared though, many in the towns & villages that fought to stop the canal embankment work in their own communities. Those people who stopped the Embankment Integrity Program said they were doing it for the good of the public. Sadly they didn't hear the words of the OWNERS of the Erie Canal, who was saying the exact same thing, the embankments were being cleared for the SAFETY of the Public.

Time will tell who was correct... those who wanted to run a Public Safety Program on the Erie Canal or those who chose to stand in the way of Erie Canal Safety and fought to keep these leaking embankments from being cleared, and having all these leaks discovered and repaired.

Maybe want to ask yourself which side of that decision YOU want to be on?

« Last Edit: December 03, 2020, 11:14:48 am by Doug K »