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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. View Map.

Current Water Levels

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.

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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 for the eight lakes
in the Oswego River Basin

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.

For additional information on water management of the NYS Canal System contact the Canal Corporation at (315) 423-2094.

Agencies that provide flood and flood plain management assistance

The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Leaving NYS Canal's Website (DEC) works with the Office of Emergency Management Leaving NYS Canal's Website (OEM) to help communities plan for flood disaster.

DEC is New York State’s flood plain management agency, which provides technical assistance to the state’s 1,500 flood-prone communities to help them prevent loss of life and to mitigate flood damages. DEC and SEMO work together to train community response teams by providing instructional materials, tests and drills, and evaluation of local training programs. Fire, police and sheriff's departments, and volunteer or professional emergency squads benefit from flood preparedness training.

DEC and SEMO also provide planning guides and resource information. They help local officials develop or improve flood preparedness plans and coordinate their plans with regional, state and federal agencies. DEC is New York's coordinating agency for the Federal Emergency Management Agency Leaving NYS Canal's Website (FEMA), which administers the National Flood Insurance Program. DEC helps communities understand and administer this program’s regulations.

For additional information contact NYSDEC Flood Protection Bureau at (518) 457-3157.

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Water Management

Management of the water resources of the Oswego River Basin continues to be arduous, especially during severe uncontrolled precipitation and snowmelt.  NYSCC is committed to operation of the Canal resource and continues to monitor the system and adjust water control structures to ensure opportunities for recreational activities.

A Fact Sheet is available entitled 'Managing the Water Resources of the Oswego River Basin in Central New York' Leaving NYS Canal's Website from the USGS Website Leaving NYS Canal's Website 

The PDF offered by USGS has been created through a joint effort of The United Stage Geological Survey (USGS) and the Finger Lakes - Lake Ontario Watershed Protection Alliance (FL-LOWPA).  This fact sheet provides a comprehensive summary of the Oswego River Basin, limitations on control, and goals and priorities in water-resource management.

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