Nature and Science: Water Quality
The Corridor’s waterways include approximately 40 percent of New York State’s freshwater resources and drain nearly half of the state’s total area. Both water quality and quantity are essential for navigation, drinking, recreation, irrigation, and a healthy ecosystem for plants and animals.
New York’s canals closely follow natural waterways and cross five major drainage basins, or watersheds. These include:
- Lake Champlain and its tributaries flow north to Canada and the St. Lawrence River.
- The Hudson-Mohawk River system flows east from Rome and south from the Adirondack Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean at New York City.
- The Oswego River flows north to Lake Ontario, draining the Ganargua Creek, Clyde River, and the Finger Lakes by way of the Seneca River from the west and Wood Creek, Oneida Lake, and the Oneida River from the east.
- The Genesee River flows north to Lake Ontario
- The Lake Erie drainage area flows west to the Niagara River, which flows north to Lake Ontario
Quality is Key
The abundance and high quality of water in the Corridor and upstate New York fostered the agricultural industry and population growth in the early canal days. Over the years, industry has also thrived on the abundance and the power provided by the region’s waters.
Today, the quality of the region’s water resources continues to support people and agriculture, and has also become the basis for recreation, tourism, and sport fishing, while also providing valuable habitat for aquatic plants and animals. Because so much land drains into the canal and the river systems that support it, promoting good water quality throughout the Corridor is critical.
Land Use Affects Water Quality
Water moves through a watershed from the highest elevation to the lowest. When rainwater and melted snow drain off the land they carry sediments, pollutants, and other dissolved materials into various water sources, including streams, lakes, and the canal. That means that water draining off of roads, parking lots, buildings, construction sites, shopping areas, dumps, and backyards may eventually end up in the canal system.
This doesn’t mean that water in the canal system is necessarily polluted. A number of factors affect water quality as water moves through a watershed. These include the amount and types of pollutants, the quality and quantity of wetlands (which can help to filter pollutants) and natural habitats (which help to buffer water sources), and the volume and flow of water.
Significant advances have been made by state agencies and non-profit organizations to protect water quality. Efforts primarily focus on:
Efforts to address “non-point source pollution”—pollution that results from our normal day-to-day activities—are increasingly being undertaken.
- Industrial discharges
- Combined sewer outfalls
- Urban and agricultural runoff
- Hydroelectric power facilities
Additional conservation strategies that mutually benefit the Corridor’s water quality and supply, quality of life, and wildlife include:
- Conservation of natural areas and wildlife habitats
- Sustainable growth of cities, towns, and villages
- Preservation and development of agricultural economies and conservation of prime farmland
- Intermunicipal and interagency planning for waterfronts and watersheds