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New York State Canals

Environmental Stewarship

Environmental Stewardship is recognized as one of the primary responsibilities of the Thruway Authority and Canal Corporation (Authority/Corporation). Incorporating Environmental Stewardship into all projects and activities is one of the Strategic Goals of the organization. Successful implementation of this goal requires that all Authority/Corporation employees take on the role of environmental stewards.

Dredging Activities

Each year the Canal Corporation conducts maintenance dredging in order to maintain minimum water depths for navigation in the Cayuga-Seneca, Champlain, Erie and Oswego Canals. Four floating plants, staffed with permanent and seasonal employees, are located on the Canal in Waterford, Utica, Syracuse and Albion. Each floating plant has the capability to dredge by hydraulic and mechanical methods.  Most dredging is conducted during the navigation season between May and November. The average yearly volume PDF of sediment dredged is approximately 416,350 cubic yards. 

Hydraulic dredging involves the suction and pumping of sediments from the water into upland sites where solids are settled out before the water is returned to the Canal. Turbidity (a measure of the “cloudiness” of water) in the water being returned to the canal is monitored every few hours to ensure the waterway is not adversely impacted by the dredging operations.  Highly turbid water can adversely impact fish, wildlife, and sensitive environmental habitats. 

Mechanical dredge sites normally consist of coarse grained sediments. These sites are dredged through the use of clamshells, backhoes, and Gradalls.  Sediment is excavated and placed into barges for transport to the upland disposal site. The Canal Corporation uses a hydraulic off-loader which pumps the sediment directly from the barge into the upland site.

Since 2007, the Canal Corporation has abandoned the historic practice of “wet dumping.”  Wet dumping, also known as in-water disposal, was a practice where mechanically dredged sediments would be transported to a nearby hydraulic dredge and then dumped back into the water for the hydraulic dredge to subsequently pump to the upland site.  By abandoning this practice, the Canal Corporation is ensuring that the water quality and environmental habitat in the canal system are minimally impacted by our dredging operations. 

Dredging at stream mouths is avoided during fish spawning season every May and June.  This precaution ensures that these special areas and any fish seeking to spawn in the creeks are not adversely impacted.  

In recent years, the Canal Corporation has expanded its use of “dry dredging.”  Dry dredging involves the use of traditional construction equipment to remove sediment during the non-navigation season when water levels are lowered.  This practice largely takes place out of the water and as a result, protects the water quality and minimizes any adverse impacts on environmental habitats.

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Sediment Reuse

Sediment that has been removed from the Canal System is routinely reused for both public and private benefit.  Through Beneficial Use Determinations (BUD) received from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, sediment has been reused for a wide variety of applications. 

In 2012, the Canal Corporation has begun developing a sediment reuse strategy with the Department of Environmental Conservation that will allow for more expanded reuse of clean sediment.  This approach to reusing a natural resource will improve the sustainability efforts of New York State, as less material will need to be mined from permitted facilities.

Private sales of canal sediment are available for fair market value or through a competitive bidding process.  Prospective users should contact the Office of Canal Maintenance and Operations for more information:  (518) 436-2747.

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Invasive Species Management

The Canal Corporation is a charter member of the NYS Invasive Species Council Leaving NYS Canal's Website .  The Canal Corporation participates in invasive species management programs across the state, including:

  • Water Chestnut Management
    Since 1982 more than $3 million has been spent to control the growth of water chestnuts (Trapa natans) in Lake Champlain. The water chestnut is an aggressive aquatic plant that is native to Europe and Asia and was introduced to New York State in the late 1800s. The water chestnut infestation spread rapidly northward in the Hudson River Basin and into the southern end of Lake Champlain. The continued northward advance of the infestation prompted a renewed control effort by both the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and the State of Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (VTDEC) in the early 1990s on Lake Champlain.
  • Hydrilla
    In 2011, Hydrilla verticillata was found in Cayuga Inlet and Cascadilla Creek in Ithaca, Tompkins County.  The Canal Corporation actively participated in the rapid response team that mobilized to address this emergent threat. 

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Stormwater Management

Stormwater runoff gathers a variety of pollutants, which degrade New York's lakes, rivers, wetland and other waterways. Stormwater management, especially in urban areas, is becoming a necessary step to reduce pollution in New York's waterways. A new federal regulation, commonly known as Stormwater Phase II, requires permits for stormwater discharges from Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4s) in urbanized areas (population of 1000 per square mile or more) and for all construction activities disturbing one or more acres. To implement the law, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has issued two general permits, one for MS4s in urbanized areas and one for stormwater management at construction activities.

The New York State Thruway Authority and Canal Corporation (Authority/Corporation) has had coverage under the MS4 permit since March 5, 2003. Working in conjunction with our consultant engineers, the Authority/Corporation is implementing a stormwater management program (SWMP) for compliance with the federal and state Stormwater Phase II program.

More information about the SWMP, including the Connecting the Drops public outreach campaign, Canal events and copies of the MS4 Annual Reports are available on the New York State Thruway Authority's Website Leaving NYS Canal's Website .

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No Discharge Zone

As of May 2010, the entire New York State Canal System is now a “no discharge zone,” which means that boats are banned from discharging sewage into the canals. Boaters must instead dispose of their sewage at specially designated pump-out stations. 

Discharges of sewage from boats can contain harmful levels of pathogens and chemicals such as formaldehyde, phenols, and chlorine, which have a negative impact on water quality, pose a risk to people’s health, and impair marine life.  View more information on marine sanitation devices and pumpout stations Leaving NYS Canal's Website .

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Since the early 1980s, New York State has not been able to maintain the navigation channel in the Hudson River portion of the Champlain Canal due to the presence of sediments contaminated with PCBs.  As a result, navigability of the Champlain Canal has gradually declined over the years hindering commercial traffic and large recreational vessels.

While General Electric (GE) is conducting a multi-year project of remedial dredging in the Hudson River, GE’s project focuses on environmental dredging and not navigational dredging and will ultimately provide limited improvement of the waterway for navigational purposes.  However, a July 2006 report by the Hudson River Natural Resources Damage Trustees Leaving NYS Canal's Website , a group representing the U.S. Department of the Interior, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, declared that the surface waters and navigational channel of the Hudson River were injured by the presence of PCBs in the sediment. 

Canal Corporation analysis indicates that the EPA-directed remediation project will address less than 15% of the navigational dredging needs in the Champlain Canal.  Absent a settlement with GE, the remaining 85% of the navigational dredging would presumably have to be conducted by the Canal Corporation at great cost.  Without completing all the necessary navigational dredging in the waterway, canal-related economic development in the surrounding upstate communities will be hindered.

Further, the future reuse of the sediment processing facility is an important economic development issue for the region.  Several competing ideas for the reuse of the property are already taking shape in the community.  Without navigational dredging being completed, the facility will be of limited use to commercial shipping due to the current navigation restrictions in the Canal. 

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