Water Levels

For Hinckley Reservoir & Oswego River Basin
Beautiful scene of blue tranquil water with a boat moving through the canal water and lush green landscape on either side of the canal

Hinckley Reservoir

The Hinckley Reservoir is located in Herkimer and Oneida Counties approximately 14 miles north of Utica. The Hinckley Reservoir was constructed in the valley formed by West Canada Creek, which flows south out of the Adirondack Mountains and through the reservoir on its route to the Mohawk River at Herkimer. The surface area of Hinckley Reservoir is approximately 4.5 square miles when full and is fed by a drainage area of approximately 372 square miles.

Hinckley Reservoir has an average water depth of about 28 feet and a maximum depth of approximately 75 feet from the spillway crest. When full to the spillway crest, the reservoir has a usable capacity of approximately 25.8 billion gallons.

Hinckley Reservoir was constructed by the State of New York and completed in 1915 for the purpose of supplying water to the Erie Canal. Hinckley Reservoir is owned by the State of New York, presently under the jurisdiction of the New York State Canal Corporation.

Since 2003, the Hinckley Reservoir also serves as the sole source of drinking water for about 130,000 people in the greater Utica area.

Hinckley Downstream Releases

As of April 1, 2013, the 2012 Operating Diagram will be used to regulate the downstream release of Hinckley Reservoir waters. The 2012 Operating Diagram establishes the rates (in cubic feet per second) at which water is to be discharged from Hinckley Reservoir on a semiweekly basis. The downstream discharge established by the 2012 Operating Diagram reduces as the reservoir level recedes in order to maintain sufficient water in Hinckley Reservoir to maintain canal navigation and other uses. The Operating Diagram also provides for increased reservoir releases as the reservoir level increases to help mitigate downstream flood concerns.

A detailed operating diagram of Hinckley Reservoir for the year 2012, displaying reservoir elevation in feet on the y-axis against time from January to December on the x-axis. Multiple lines represent different water release rates, measured in cubic feet per second (cfs), ranging from 160 to 1800 cfs, each distinguished by color.

Current Hinckley Levels

Hinckley Reservoir Watershed Map

Oswego River Basin

The Oswego River Basin is located in Central New York. It encompasses the Erie Canal from Macedon to Rome and the Cayuga-Seneca and Oswego Canals. It drains a total area of 5,122 square miles into Lake Ontario. The area of the basin is larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

The Canal Corporation's Syracuse Division Canal Office is responsible for maintaining water levels of the Canal System within the Oswego River Basin for navigational purposes.

Current Oswego Basin Levels

Stylized map of the Oswego River Basin displayed in high contrast with blue lines marking the river paths and yellow highlights indicating key locations or areas of interest, set against a black background for clear visibility.

Oswego Basin Rule Curves

Minimizing Flood Damage

Lake-level regulation efforts are aimed at minimizing flood damage within the entire Oswego River Basin. Typically, following the navigation season, the system's water levels are lowered to provide storage for spring snowmelt and storm runoff. Prior to navigation season, water levels are raised gradually to predetermined safe levels for summer use. In the summer, levels are regulated to provide reserve capacity sufficient to contain moderate runoff. Seasonal lake levels and other important factors such as maximum and minimum navigation levels are indicated on graphs called "rule curves" that depict ideal levels for each lake.

  • High Water Levels - Flood
    • Water Supply for all uses
    • Drinking water
    • Sewage plants
    • Critical Habitat
    • Navigation
    • Irrigation
  • Low Water Levels - Flood Mitigation
  • No Water
    • No Drinking Water
    • No Navigation
    • Severe Damage to Critical Habitat

Rule curves are the historical compromise for water level management that have been established to balance competing interests for target water levels. The rule curve process starts by establishing the top and bottom of the curves (highest tolerable level, lowest tolerable level) to avoid at all costs severe flooding or severe drought conditions. Within that range, navigation levels and municipal water supply are given the highest priorities to ensure a stable, reliable water supply throughout low water summer months. Critical habitat concerns also drive target levels toward the high side of the range to ensure against damage to delicate natural resources.

In order to avoid floods, demand for high levels must be balanced against the effects on property owners. Typically, floods are brought on by:

  • Rapid spring snowmelt/runoff
  • Heavy spring rains/heavy runoff
  • Heavy fall rains before the winter freeze.

To deal with these acts of nature, water levels are raised/lowered within tolerable limits by season.

  • FALL – At the close of the navigation season, water levels are drawn down for storage capacity anticipating spring runoff.
  • WINTER – The lowest water level on the system can be achieved mindful of water supply needs.
  • SPRING – Storage capacity is maintained as long as possible to accept heavy runoffs, but gradual system increases must be undertaken to ensure target levels are reached for summer low water condition needs.
  • SUMMER – Competing needs must be balanced with the available water supply.

New Water Management System in 2025

Stay tuned. Check back later for more updates.

Picturesque scene of the Erie canal in the fall. The calm blue water surrounded by foliage and sea grass.

Environmental Stewardship

Environmental Stewardship is recognized as one of the primary responsibilities of the Canal Corporation.