nature & waterways

NBC Sports highlights Oak Orchard, pilot fishing program with canal water

This screenshot from “On the Water” shows program publisher and host Chris Megan and Bill Sweitzer, marketing director for the Canal Corp., fishing in the Oak Orchard River. Megan caught a mammoth brown trout that day. The Oak Orchard benefited from a pilot program with canal water released into the tributary in November and December. That improved the water flows in the Oak Orchard and extended the fishing season.

Posted 8 May 2021 at 8:26 am

Press Release, NYS Canal Corp.

CARLTON – The New York State Canal Corporation on Friday announced the Reimagine the Canals initiative was recently featured on the NBC Sports program “On the Water: Angling Adventures.”

The television show highlighted the successful launch of a pilot program that strategically used water from the Erie Canal to enhance already renowned fishing opportunities in Western New York during the fall of 2020. The full episode can be seen by clicking here.

“The Reimagine the Canals initiative is making an outstanding positive impact on Western New York’s fishing communities and canalside businesses and we are thrilled that NBC Sports chose to showcase our recent pilot program that enhanced the angling experience along tributaries supplied by water from the Erie Canal,” said New York State Canal Corporation Director Brian U. Stratton.

Chris Megan holds a big brown trout he caught in the Oak Orchard River. He praised the fishing opportunities in the Oak.

“The Reimagine the Canals initiative, first announced by Governor Cuomo in his 2020 State of the State address, is committed to supporting many recreational opportunities along the Canal system to ensure it remains a driver of economic development and tourism across Upstate New York,” Stratton said.

Filmed last fall, the episode features the fishing experience on Oak Orchard Creek and Sandy Creek in Orleans and Monroe counties. Through the Reimagine the Canals program, the Canal Corporation increased regulated water releases into the two streams from September to early December last year.

As seen during the episode, the higher flows successfully enticed more brown trout, steelhead, and Atlantic and Pacific salmon populations to run up these streams, improving conditions for the fish and expanding opportunities for local and visiting anglers.

“The New York Canal system presents anglers with world class angling opportunities steeped in American history,” said Chris Megan, publisher and host of “On the Water.” “An engineering marvel, the Erie Canal has been in operation since 1825, opening the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean via the Hudson River. Hand dug by immigrants and farmers and enlarged twice, its effect on commerce was dramatic. As an avid angler and history buff, I jumped at the opportunity to spend two days fishing Upstate New York.”

The episode also includes a look at the history of the waterway with canal historian Art Cohn, a boat trip through the Cayuga-Seneca Canal onto Seneca Lake to troll late season lake trout, and a visit to one of New York’s hidden fishing gems where anglers come from all over the world to target the common carp that swim in the Erie Canal’s lakes and locks.

Oak Orchard will raise 100k-plus salmon, 10k steelhead in pens for the next month

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 7 April 2021 at 10:42 am

Provided photos: There were 10,000 steelhead fingerlings put in two pens in the Oak Orchard River on Monday. Volunteers will feed them the next month and then the fish will be released. They will be bigger with a higher chance of surviving and returning to the Oak Orchard when they are mature.

CARLTON – More than 100,000 fingerling fish were delivered by the state Department of Environmental Conservation on Monday to the Oak Orchard River.

Those fish will be raised in pens and fed regularly by volunteers the next month. The fish will nearly double in size which will increase their chances for surviving when they are released into the river and when they go out to Lake Ontario.

They also are “imprinting” on the Oak Orchard, and will have a better chance of returning when they are mature in about 3 to 4 years, with the steelhead topping 10 pounds and some of the salmon 30 pounds or more.

Oak Orchard volunteers have been running the pen-rearing project since 1998. It was the first such effort on the south shore of the lake. Now there are many.

Fishing communities have seen how the projects pay off with a better fishery, with more mature fish that draw bring in anglers from outside the area to support local businesses.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation delivered 111,000 Chinook salmon on Monday to pens in the Oak Orchard River. The Oak Orchard in 1998 became the first community with a pen-rearing project on the southshore of Lake Ontario. Now there are several similar efforts.

The DEC delivered 111,000 Chinook salmon and 10,000 steelhead on Monday. They will be kept in pens at Ernst’s Lake Breeze Marina.

Ron Bierstine, owner of Orleans Outdoor, has been coordinating the steelhead pens since 2019. He said the effort has paid off with more mature steelhead in the Oak Orchard.

“This year the steelhead fishing in the river the returns look pretty good,” he said. “We hear a lot anecdotally.”

In 2022, there should be more 3-year returns from the steelhead in the pens in 2019.

“I’m real excited about next year,” Bierstine said this morning.

The volunteers feed the fish on a feeding schedule from the DEC. The DEC provides the food in little pellets.

Bierstine said the pen-rearing has become a community effort at the Oak Orchard.

“All major ports do it now, but it started here on the Oak Orchard,” he said.

Trout season starts today; DEC will stock 1.8 million trout in NY waters

Posted 1 April 2021 at 8:36 am

Press Release, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Office

Photo by Tom Rivers: An angler tries to a catch a fish in the Oak Orchard River in Carlton.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that trout fishing season in New York State opens today. In preparation for opening day, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is stocking 1.8 million catchable trout in waters across the state.

In addition to larger size fish being stocked this year, some stream reaches will receive four stockings of trout.

“Every year, thousands of New Yorkers head outside on the opening day of trout season, and 2021 should be no exception, especially with a new trout management plan in place to improve access for anglers of all ages,” Cuomo said. “This is a longstanding and much-beloved tradition for generations of families, and I encourage New Yorkers to get outside, continue practicing safe behaviors like social distancing, and experience all the great fishing the Empire State has to offer.”

New York State offers a diverse set of fishing opportunities for wild and stocked trout. Under the State’s new Trout Stream Management Plan, DEC has grouped stream fishing opportunities into five distinct categories for improved management and easy-to-understand regulations to help make fishing more accessible and enjoyable for all anglers, from novice to expert.

“This year opening day represents the beginning of a new era in trout stream management for New York,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. “After more than two years of committed work with our angling public, DEC will begin implementing the new Trout Stream Management Plan.”

This fall, anglers will be able to fish for trout throughout the state due to the creation of a statewide catch and release season that will run from Oct. 16 through March 31. While year-round trout fishing has been enjoyed in many areas of the state, the season will provide an opportunity for anglers who have otherwise had to wait for spring. DEC will select a suite of streams and conduct a three-year study to evaluate the new regulation to ensure that the new season has no negative impact on natural trout production.

“In addition to new and fewer types of special regulations, we have made significant progress toward achieving our fish production objectives to stock larger yearling fish and seed all stockings with some fish 12 inches or larger,” Seggos said. “Best of all, anglers can continue to enjoy our trout stream resources through the fall and winter months thanks to the creation of a new catch and release season.”

To prepare anglers for the 2021 trout season with the new management plan in place, DEC will host virtual outreach events in the coming weeks, including “how to” Facebook Live segments where viewers can learn about beginner trout fishing techniques.

To access additional information about how and where anglers can find their preferred type of trout angling opportunities, DEC launched an interactive Trout Stream Fishing Map to provide a one-stop-shop for information about stocking, fishing access, season dates, and regulations on the DECinfo Locator.

Links to the Trout Stream Fishing Map and a User Guide are available by clicking here.

197th Erie Canal boating season will run from May 21 to Oct. 13

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 17 March 2021 at 3:26 pm

File photo by Tom Rivers: These two people and a dog pass underneath the Ingersoll Street lift bridge in Albion on Oct. 14, 2017, when it was a 70-degree fall day.

The State Canal Corp. today announced the schedule for the upcoming boating season with the canal opening on May 21 and continuing until Oct. 13.

That is close to being back to normal after last year’s start was pushed back until June 26. The start in 2020 was supposed to be May 15 but was delayed because canal staff and construction crews were sidelined early in the pandemic. That prevented the State Canal Corp. from doing some of the work needed before the canals could be opened.

In an announcement for the upcoming season today, the Canal Corp. said, “This proposed schedule of operations could be impacted by the Covid pandemic and/or the need to repair critical infrastructure.”

The Canal Corp. also again won’t be charging any tolls or fees for recreational use of the canal system. This is the fifth straight year the tolls have been waived. Those tolls were normally $25 to $100 for a season pass, depending on the size of the vessel.

The upcoming boating season will be the 197th continuous season. Last year the system was in danger of not opening due to Covid, but it opened later than usual.

Standard hours of operation will be from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The following lift bridges in Orleans County will operate on demand from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. until September 15: Holley, Hulberton, Ingersoll Street in Albion, Main Street in Albion, Eagle Harbor, Knowlesville and Medina.

Canalway Trail saw 30 percent increase in users last year

Posted 15 March 2021 at 10:00 am

4 million visitors on towpath and trail system in 2020

Photo by Tom Rivers: George Sokolsky, center, and his friends Jim Balmer, left, and Brad Alexander walk the Erie Canal in Albion while practicing social distancing in this photo from last April. The trio from Brockport walked stretches of the Erie Canal almost every day, gradually working their way from Brockport to Lockport. That’s about 40 miles along the towpath.

Press Release, Parks and Trails New York, New York Power Authority

ALBANY – Use along the Erie Canalway Trail and Champlain Canalway Trail increased in 2020 by about 30 percent with 4 million users last year, according to the 2020 Who’s on the Trail report from Parks & Trails New York and the New York State Canal Corporation.

The Canalway Trail system as a whole saw an estimated 4.2 million visits in 2020, including just under 4 million visits to the 360-mile Erie Canalway Trail between Albany and Buffalo and approximately 288,000 visits to the 90-mile Champlain Canalway Trail between Waterford and Whitehall.

The visits to the Erie Canalway Trail show a more than 30% increase over 2019 usage figures. These figures reflect the significant investments that were made as part of the completion of the Empire State Trail, and the increased interest and participation in outdoor recreational activities due to Covid-19.

“The Erie and Champlain Canalway Trails have proven to be an invaluable resource for individuals seeking refuge and recreation during these difficult times,” said Brian Stratton, Canal Corporation director. “Their integration into the recently completed Empire State Trail allows outdoor enthusiasts an opportunity to experience our iconic Canal system and the bucolic landscapes of Upstate New York. The Canal Corporation was proud to complete several trail projects in 2020, which not only closed gaps along the trail, but also enhanced the overall safety and experience for all trail users.”

In 2020, PTNY counted visits at seven locations along the Erie and Champlain Canalway Trails. Electronic counters recorded usage at Tonawanda, Camillus, DeWitt, Canastota, German Flatts and Schoharie Crossing on the Erie Canalway Trail and at Schuylerville on the Champlain Canalway Trail.  All seven locations saw the heaviest use on weekends and holidays, suggesting the trail is particularly popular for recreational activities. Peak usage for all locations occurred between May and September, though the busiest month varied by location.

The majority of locations for which there was data for both 2019 and 2020 showed significant increases in visitation, with usage at Lock E-18 in German Flatts more than doubling in 2020. Niawanda Park in Tonawanda saw the highest number of annual visits ever recorded along the Erie Canalway Trail, with over 300,000 cyclists, walkers, runners, joggers, and other users enjoying the trail.

Each year PTNY issues a Who’s on the Trail report that provides a detailed summary of trail use at several sites along the Erie and Champlain Canals. Locations vary each year to ensure that usage is measured in all parts of the state.

The reports include the most popular stretches of trail and the most popular day, time, and season for trail use. Collectively, these numbers tell a compelling narrative about the trail’s popularity and offer further justification for continuing to invest in these popular resources. Click here to see the full report.

The usage figures are based on a methodology employed by the Hudson River Valley Greenway and Alta Planning and Design to estimate the annual number of users (8.6 million) expected to use the now-complete 750-mile Empire State Trail.

“The increase in visitors to the Canalway Trail system in 2020 is a testament to the critical importance of the trail as public health infrastructure, providing opportunities for New Yorkers across the state to get outside during the pandemic,” said Robin Dropkin, Executive Director of Parks & Trails New York. “The completion of the Empire State Trail has made the trail an even more valuable resource, filling in gaps and creating connections that make the trail more accessible to all. We expect visitation to the Canalway Trail system to continue to increase as more New Yorkers and out-of-state visitors take advantage of this popular resource for recreation and tourism.”

Hawley reminds boaters of new law requiring safety class

Photo by Tom Rivers: A boat heads east across Lake Ontario on Aug. 8, 2020 while the sun was setting off the shore of Barker.

Posted 10 March 2021 at 5:10 pm

Press Release, Assemblyman Steve Hawley

Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,C,I-Batavia) is reminding constituents that due to a new boating law passed last year, all motorboat operators, regardless of age, must have a boating safety certificate by 2025 in order to operate motorized watercrafts, including personal watercraft such as jet-skis.

Under the new law, all motorboat operators:

  • Born on or after Jan. 1, 1993 needed a boating safety certificate beginning in 2020.
  • Born on or after Jan. 1, 1988 will need a boating safety certificate beginning in 2022.
  • Born on or after Jan. 1, 1983 will need a boating safety certificate beginning in 2023.
  • Born on or after Jan. 1, 1978 will need a boating safety certificate beginning in 2024.
  • All motorboat operators regardless of age will need a boating safety certificate beginning in 2025.

Information on taking the boating safety course in-person or online can be found by clicking here.

“I encourage anyone who has even a mild interest in boating to take the state boating safety course, because it’s never been easier to get your certificate,” said Hawley. “Whether taking the course in-person or online, it’s a great way to spend an afternoon and ensure everyone stays safe in New York waters.”

DEC resume in-person hunter education classes April 1

Posted 10 March 2021 at 3:07 pm

Online courses will remain an option

Press Release, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos announced today that DEC will resume holding in-person, instructor-led Hunter Education Program (HEP) courses starting April 1. DEC will continue to offer online hunter education courses, as well.

“To prevent the spread of Covid-19, last year DEC successfully transitioned all of our hunter education courses online,” Commissioner Seggos said. “I’m proud of the way our staff quickly pivoted, working with our contractor to offer online courses for new hunters and bowhunters, and I applaud their efforts to safely allow for resuming in-person instruction again in time for new hunters to pursue turkey this spring.”

Covid-19 safety protocols will be followed in every in-person course, including health screening upon arrival, mandatory mask wearing, social distancing, smaller class sizes, and sanitizing hands and equipment.

In-person courses are free and taught by volunteer HEP instructors. Courses are offered in hunter, bowhunter, trapper, and waterfowl hunter education. Registration is required and all in-person courses require mandatory homework that must be completed prior to participating in the class. For more information, or to register for a HEP course, visit the Hunter Education Program page on DEC’s website.

Although the number of courses offered may be limited this spring, interested participants are encouraged to check back often as new courses may be added. Online courses are also available. The cost of the online hunter education course is $19.95. The course can be found on DEC’s hunter-ed website. DEC also continues to offer an online bowhunter education course.

Since March 2020, DEC has seen more than a 12 percent increase in hunting and fishing license sales compared to sales from the previous 12-month period. During this time, which roughly coincides with New York State on PAUSE, resident turkey permits have increased more than 13 percent and junior hunting licenses increased by more than 25 percent.

Certain types of lifetime licenses also increased by as much as 50 percent. A combination of factors, including the availability of online hunter education for new hunters and more time available to participate in the hunting and other activities as New Yorkers looked for recreational options during the pandemic, likely contributed to the increase.

Lots of diversity in annual Christmas Bird Count at Oak Orchard Swamp

Posted 6 February 2021 at 11:50 am

New record highs for Northern Saw-whet Owl, Common Raven, Brown Creeper, Carolina Wren, Winter Wren and European Starling

Photo by Celeste Morien: This photo of a Common Redpolls was not taken on count day of Dec. 28, which was very windy.

By Celeste Morien, Count Compiler for Oak Orchard Swamp Christmas Bird Count

SHELBY – The numbers are in and it was another successful Oak Orchard Swamp Christmas Bird Count.

On Dec. 28, 31 volunteers participated in the 53rd annual Oak Orchard Swamp Christmas Bird Count. The National Audubon Society, in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, sponsor Christmas Bird Counts annually throughout the country and beyond in the Americas. Each count consists of a tally of all birds seen within a 15-mile diameter circle on one day during a 15-day period at the end of December and the beginning of January. Audubon Christmas Counts provide valuable information on the range expansion or narrowing of wintering bird populations and have been taking place for 120 years.

The Oak Orchard Swamp Count Circle

The circle center for the Oak Orchard count is the point at which the Genesee-Orleans County line crosses Route 63. The 15-mile diameter circle includes the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, Oak Orchard and Tonawanda State Wildlife Management Areas, the Tonawanda/Seneca Native American Reservation, the Townships of Alabama and Shelby, the villages of Indian Falls, Medina and Wolcottsville and portions of Middleport and Oakfield.

Weather Factors

Weather can make or break the day for our observers, but we forge ahead! Count hours were cold and wet, with a low of 27F and high of 39F. The early morning began with rain and winds from the south at 11 MPH, which then began gusting throughout the afternoon from the WSW at 16 -21 MPH, making the temperatures essentially feel 10 degrees colder. By afternoon, birding was essentially precipitation free. Late morning and afternoon visibility was good.


Our 31 intrepid observers went afield in 23 parties from 6:15 a.m. until 6:45 p.m. These folks volunteer to attend from as far away as Rochester and Buffalo, and even with the Covid-19 restrictions in place, persevered in their determination to ensure that the 2020 count would become another accurate contribution in the collection of scientific information about wintering bird populations.

In 106.25 total hours, observers covered 25.75 miles on foot and 535.5 miles by car, which included 37 hours on foot and 69.25 hours by car! Two observers counted birds at home feeders. Participants also clocked 9 nocturnal hours and 39.25 miles searching for owls.

In total, these awesome observers tallied 73 species and 20,843 individual birds! As the compiler, I say thank you all and thank you again to Douglas Beattie, Elaine Dart, Don Bemont, Daniel Rosentreter, Thomas Morien, Garner Light, Judy Light, Rory Kuczek, Paul Hess, Kathryn Brenner, Janie Mellas, Robert Buckert, Jules Wagner, Greg Lawrence, William Wolanske, Denise Appleby, Pat Martin, Kim Hartquist, Bev Seyler, Bob DeLeon, Jennifer Caughel, Donna DeLeon, Emma DeLeon, Mike Vickner, Mike Galas, Gerry Rising, Chuck Mitchell, Heidi Kennedy, Tad Gerace, Christopher Hollister and Iroquois NWR and the NYS DEC.

Winter Diversity

Counters commented on good diversity overall with a few exceptions, such as the lack of waterfowl in the region because of the freeze in early December. Still, we had all three swan species and a smattering of waterfowl. Lack of snow cover on the ground and heavy winds made finding birds at roadside difficult, but there were birds to be found for those who had the opportunity and spent time walking. With a total lack of snow cover, participants reported that birds were difficult to see in fields and were not present at the roadsides. Wished-for irruptive species (those that visit in winter from the boreal forest when cone crops there are low) such as Evening and Pine Grosbeak were not found although they have been seen in other areas of the state, and even in our circle this fall.  Irruptive species we did find: a few Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls, which have shown a recent uptick and Red-breasted Nuthatches.

Highs and Lows

Notable highest counts ever: Northern Saw-whet Owl, Common Raven, Brown Creeper, Carolina Wren, Winter Wren and European Starling.

Gerry Rising found the Saw-whet Owls and stated he’d never had an experience quite like this one in his many years of watching birds. Both owls flew out of conifers in response to a recording played in the early morning.

Common Ravens are increasing their presence in the Great Lake plains area, resulting in a total of five of these fascinating and intelligent corvids on count day. Fox Sparrow was the single “new to the count” species this year; Janie Mellas, one of our many sharp-eyed participants, found it lingering on the Iroquois Refuge. A single Red-winged Blackbird was recorded as a new low count. Count week birds seen in the three days before or after the count date, but not on the actual count date, were Sandhill Crane and Northern Pintail.

The Friends of Iroquois, Inc. usually sponsor our evening refreshments at the refuge, but because of the Covid-19 pandemic that was not possible. The INWR Staff was still able to contribute time and effort in covering the refuge areas. The NYS DEC staff also volunteered to report birds while on duty and conducted their winter raptor survey on count afternoon. Many thanks go out to everyone who participated! A list of species follows.

The 2021 Count

We rely on volunteer support every year to continue this important tradition. I might add that for next year, I welcome any homeowner in the circle who wants to count birds at their feeding station to contact me through the NYS Ornithological Association (NYSOA) or Buffalo Ornithological Society websites two weeks before the count. We also welcome permission for counters to access any private property trails or field edges within the circle for walking.

Look for the count date to be announced by mid-November and please put us on your calendar!

A list of species observed at the 2020 count includes (The asterisk represents an all-time high):

  • Mute Swan,2
  • Tundra Swan, 21
  • Trumpeter Swan, 4
  • Cackling Goose, 6
  • Canada Goose, 3,367
  • American Black Duck, 18
  • Mallard, 116
  • Northern Shoveler, 35
  • Common Merganser, 10
  • Ring-necked Pheasant, 3
  • Wild Turkey, 59
  • Great Blue Heron, 3
  • Northern Harrier, 12
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk, 3
  • Cooper’s Hawk, 6
  • Bald Eagle, 17
  • Red-tailed Hawk, 57
  • Rough-legged Hawk, 2
  • Ring-billed Gull, 115
  • Herring Gull,11
  • Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon), 223
  • Mourning Dove, 173
  • Eastern Screech-Owl, 5
  • Short-eared Owl, 6
  • Northern Saw-whet Owl, 2*
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker, 71
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 1
  • Downy Woodpecker, 78
  • Hairy Woodpecker, 17
  • Northern Flicker, 19
  • Pileated Woodpecker, 6
  • American Kestrel, 3
  • Merlin, 1
  • Northern Shrike, 2
  • Blue Jay, 129
  • American Crow, 287
  • Common Raven, 5*
  • Horned Lark, 106
  • Black-capped Chickadee, 426
  • Tufted Titmouse, 30
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch, 12
  • White-breasted Nuthatch, 69
  • Brown Creeper, 20*
  • Carolina Wren, 5*
  • Winter Wren, 3*
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet, 13
  • Eastern Bluebird, 31
  • Hermit Thrush, 1
  • American Robin, 260
  • Northern Mockingbird, 1
  • European Starling, 12,324*
  • Cedar Waxwing, 2
  • Snow Bunting, 275
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler, 3
  • American Tree Sparrow, 294
  • Dark-eyed Junco, 737
  • White-crowned Sparrow, 13
  • White-throated Sparrow, 43
  • Savannah Sparrow, 2
  • Song Sparrow , 19
  • Swamp Sparrow, 11
  • Northern Cardinal, 170
  • Red-winged Blackbird, 1
  • Brown-headed Cowbird, 12
  • House Finch, 41
  • Common Redpoll, 30
  • Pine Siskin, 2
  • American Goldfinch, 236
  • House Sparrow, 454

Total individuals, 20,843

Total species, 73

New Yorkers can fish without a license on Feb. 13-14

Posted 5 February 2021 at 8:39 am

Press Release, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Office

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo encouraged New Yorkers to take advantage of the upcoming first Free Fishing Weekend of 2021, on February 13 and 14, when anglers are permitted to fish for free without a license.

“New York is home to some of the best lakes, ponds, rivers and streams in the world, all offering exceptional fishing opportunities all year round,” Governor Cuomo said. “As the nation continues to grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic, families are seeking outdoor activities that don’t break the bank or require extensive travel, and this Free Fishing weekend is a perfect option for anglers of all experience levels to enjoy the very best that the Empire State has to offer.”

Those new to ice fishing are encouraged to download the Ice Fishing Chapter of DEC’s I FISH NY Beginners’ Guide to Freshwater Fishing for information on how to get started.

Additional information, including a list of waters where ice fishing is permitted, can found on the DEC ice fishing webpage. In Orleans County, Glenwood Lake in Ridgeway and Lake Alice in Carlton are listed as spots for ice fishing.

Recent cold weather has improved ice conditions across the state and DEC reminds those venturing onto the ice that four inches or more of solid ice is considered safe for accessing bodies of water on foot.

Ice anglers should note that ice thickness can vary on different bodies of water and even on the same body of water. Anglers should be particularly wary of areas of moving water and around boat docks and houses where bubblers may be installed to reduce ice buildup. The presence of snowmobile tracks or footprints on the ice should not be considered evidence of safe ice conditions. Individuals are strongly encouraged to check ice conditions and avoid situations that appear to present even a remote risk. It’s easy to test ice thickness with an auger or ice spud at various spots.

“Every year, more and more New Yorkers discover there are just as many fantastic fishing opportunities during the winter months as during the summer,” said NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos. “Ice fishing is a great activity for families to do together, and the annual February Free Fishing weekend is the perfect time for first timers to give it a try on waters with ice thick enough to access safely.”

New York’s Free Fishing Days program began in 1991 to give people who might not fish a chance to try the rewarding sport at no cost, to introduce people to a new hobby, and to encourage people to support the management of the State’s freshwater fisheries by purchasing a New York State fishing license. February’s free fishing days are the first of several planned for 2021. Additional days include June 26 and 27, September 25 (National Hunting and Fishing Day) and November 11 (Veterans Day). During free fishing days, residents and visitors can fish for free on any of the state’s 7,500 lakes and ponds or 70,000 miles of rivers and streams.

Governor announces designer for new pedestrian bridge over canal in Brockport

This rendering of a new pedestrian bridge over the Erie Canal in Brockport, a span that will connect the Brockport State College campus to the Empire State Trail.

Posted 29 January 2021 at 10:30 am

Press Release, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Office

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the selection of SHoP Architects as the lead designer of the Brockport Loop Pedestrian Bridge over the Erie Canal.

Originally announced as part of the Governor’s State of the State address in January 2020, this new pedestrian bridge in the Village of Brockport represents the first large-scale infrastructure project to begin under the state’s Reimagine the Canals initiative.

The Board of Trustees for the New York Power Authority, which owns and operates the New York Canal Corporation as a subsidiary, selected SHoP Architects and chose Ove Arup & Partners as engineer of record on the project.

“The Erie Canal has been a tremendous resource for New York for more than 200 years and this project will utilize long-standing infrastructure to provide recreational amenities and greater connectivity for the Village of Brockport,” Cuomo said. “The Brockport Loop Pedestrian Bridge builds upon the Canal’s iconic infrastructure and provides new opportunities for New Yorkers to get outdoors and take advantage of the beauty and countless activities along the Canal and the Empire State Trail. This project is only one aspect of our efforts to Reimagine the Canals – a visionary plan to transform the historic waterway that will help grow tourism, spur economic activity for decades to come.”

Construction of the Brockport Loop Pedestrian Bridge will begin in 2023. For more information about the Reimagine the Canals initiative, click here.

Constructed adjacent to an existing Erie Canal guard gate, the new Brockport Loop Pedestrian Bridge will connect the SUNY Brockport campus to the Empire State Trail, a multi-use trail envisioned by the Governor that connects New York City to Canada, and Albany to Buffalo.

The trail, which parallels the Erie Canal, provides an important centrally located recreational amenity for New Yorkers who want to experience the outdoors. Once built, the bridge will also complement the Village of Brockport’s recent installation of a kayak dock and plans for a nearby boathouse by serving as a viewing platform for anticipated rowing competitions on the canal. Most importantly, the Brockport Loop Pedestrian Bridge represents a new future for the Erie Canal by adaptively reusing historic infrastructure for community benefit today.

“The Village of Brockport is excited about the Brockport Loop and the pedestrian bridge that is the anchor to the entire project,” said Village of Brockport Mayor Margay Blackman. “The state-of-the-art pedestrian bridge not only underscores the strong partnership between SUNY Brockport and the Village, but literally links the college directly to the village via the Erie Canal.  The bridge itself will provide a platform for viewing future regattas, and a place to safely sit and experience activity on the canal. As the architectural anchor for a much larger project (the Loop), the pedestrian bridge represents an economic stimulus to completing a literal loop connecting the college and the village to the Empire State Trail.”

Funding for this bridge project will come from NYPA and a $2 million grant by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, which will be administered by the Rochester Area Community Foundation. To complete the Brockport Loop, additional funds will be secured to create a new trail along the SUNY campus side of the Canal leading from the new pedestrian bridge to the nearby Smith Street bridge, which also will see future improvements.

“SUNY Brockport is so pleased that progress is continuing on the Brockport Loop Pedestrian Bridge. As a College engaged with our community, we know that connecting the campus to the Empire State Trail will benefit both the campus and the Village, so I thank Governor Cuomo, NYPA, and the Canal Corporation for their vision,” said SUNY Brockport President Heidi Macpherson.

The Brockport Loop Pedestrian Bridge is one of the many economic development projects along the Erie Canal announced by Governor Cuomo in his 2020 State of the State Reimagine the Canals initiative, a plan to invest in canalside communities and encourage economic activity and outdoor recreation throughout the state. The New York Power Authority has committed $300 million to the Reimagine the Canals program.

NYPA selected SHoP Architects, a New York City-based New York State Small Business Enterprise firm, to leverage its experience with revitalizing aging urban infrastructure and further develop a context-sensitive conceptual design for the project.

Ove Arup & Partners, a global firm with an office in New York City, has extensive experience with pedestrian bridge design and engineering, both in New York State and around the world.

“In a time when New Yorkers are increasingly looking toward the outdoors, and in particular toward the Canal and the Empire State Trail, for opportunities to enjoy the best of our state while remaining socially distanced, this project represents a tremendous step forward toward showcasing the innumerable ways we can enjoy local, outdoor recreation along the state’s iconic canals,” said Brian U. Stratton, director of the New York State Canal Corporation.

Oak Orchard Harbor, Johnson Creek on the state list for dredging

Photo by Tom Rivers: The Oak Orchard Harbor needs to have sediment removed to make the channel more navigable for boaters. The harbor is pictured on Aug. 29, 2019. Local officials want to ensure the harbor is regularly dredged of sediment.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 15 January 2021 at 8:26 am

The Oak Orchard Harbor and Johnson Creek in Carlton, near Lakeside Beach State Park, are both on a state list to be dredged.

The state has a $15 million regional dredging initiative the Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative (REDI).

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday said dredging harbors along Lake Ontario remains a priority. Dredging started at Little Sodus Bay, a navigation channel in Cayuga County used by boaters to access Lake Ontario from Little Sodus Bay.

File photo: The dredging barge is near the breakwall at the end of the Oak Orchard channel when the harbor was dredged in August 2014 for the first time in 10 years.

The dredging project will remove built-up sediment from the bottom of the waterway to allow for continued safe passage of watercrafts to support the tourism economy and preserve wildlife in the region.

The Oak Orchard Harbor dredging is scheduled to start in June 2021 and the Johnson Creek Harbor will get attention in July 2021, the state has previously said.

“We’re building the resilience of communities along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River to prevent flooding and ease maintenance of vital navigation channels for years to come,” Cuomo said. “This dredging project is essential to protecting not only New Yorkers who live and work in shoreline communities but also the wildlife in the coastal habitats of the region, while also boosting tourism by ensuring safe recreational access for boaters.”

To date, the State has completed four REDI dredging projects, and removed approximately 15,000 cubic yards of sediment, to provide recreational boaters with safe access to Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.

The completed dredging projects include Port Bay, Blind Sodus Bay and East Bay in Wayne County, and Sandy Pond Inlet in Oswego County. Through Phase I and II, the dredging initiative is tackling the necessary dredging of 20 harbor navigation channels. Upon completion of the project, over 100,000 cubic yards of sediment is anticipated to be dredged, Cuomo’s Office said.

Future regional dredging initiative sites include:

  • Oswego County: Salmon River/Port Ontario
  • Niagara County: Olcott Harbor, Golden Hill State Park
  • Orleans County: Oak Orchard Harbor, Johnson Creek
  • Monroe County: Sandy Creek, Braddock Bay, Long Pond Outlet, Irondequoit Bay
  • Wayne County: Bear Creek Harbor, Pultneyville
  • Jefferson County: Clayton French Creek Marina, Henderson “The Cut”
  • St. Lawrence County: Ogdensburg “City Front Channel,” Morristown Navigation Channel

During Phase III, the State will provide counties with the information they need to update, expand, and implement an existing Regional Dredging Management Plan to keep the channels operational over time.

In response to the extended pattern of flooding along the shores of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, Cuomo created REDI to increase the resilience of shoreline communities and bolster economic development in the region.

Five REDI Regional Planning Committees, comprised of representatives from eight counties (Niagara and Orleans, Monroe, Wayne, Cayuga and Oswego, and Jefferson and St. Lawrence) were established to identify local priorities, at-risk infrastructure and other assets, and public safety concerns.

The REDI Commission allocated $20 million for homeowner assistance, $30 million to improve the resiliency of businesses, and $15 million toward a regional dredging effort that will benefit each of the eight counties in the REDI regions. The remaining $235 million has been allocated towards local and regional projects that advance and exemplify the REDI mission, Cuomo’s Office stated.

“Addressing the damage and erosion from high water events and wave impacts are essential elements of Governor Cuomo’s REDI initiative that is creating stronger communities along Lake Ontario’s shoreline,” said Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos.

Medina awarded grant for kayak launch on Canal

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 14 January 2021 at 9:22 am

Photo by Tom Rivers: A dock is pictured in Medina’s Canal Basin in this photo from a recent fall day. Medina has received a grant to add a kayak launch at the canal.

MEDINA – The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor announced a $10,500 grant today to help develop and install an ADA-accessible kayak launch on the Erie Canal in downtown Medina.

This is one of 13 Erie Canalway IMPACT! grants for non-profit organizations and municipalities. The grants total $108,787 and will advance projects that preserve and showcase canal heritage, educate youth and welcome people to explore the canal in their local communities, the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor said in a news release.

The grants range from $1,500 to $12,000 and will leverage an additional $146,630 in private and public project support.

“As the pandemic continues to present abnormal challenges it is especially gratifying to support diverse canal inspired innovations,” said Bob Radliff, executive director of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. “We are so pleased to make these timely investments and contribute to the resilience of our canal communities.”

The organization now has made 96 grants to communities and non-profit organizations since 2008 that have spurred $2.49 million in additional investments in heritage preservation, recreation, and education, Radliff said.

The IMPACT! grants are made possible with funding support provided by the National Park Service and the NYS Canal Corporation.

“We are proud to support this year’s IMPACT! grant recipients as the winning projects will positively improve canalside communities while ensuring the New York State Canal System continues to drive economic growth while safeguarding the environment and preserving the history of the nation’s most iconic waterway for the next generation,” said Canal Corporation Director Brian U. Stratton.

The 2021 Erie Canalway IMPACT! grant awards include:

  • Buffalo Maritime Center, Buffalo – Award: $12,000 to create an exhibit dedicated to the Haudenosaunee alliance of Native Americans and Erie Canal history to complement Buffalo Maritime Center’s building of the Packet Boat, Seneca Chief.
  • Canal Society of New York State, Port Byron – Award: $5,300 to install wayside signs to improve outreach and accessibility to cultural and natural resources at the Erie Canal Heritage Park at Port Byron.
  • Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum, Chittenango – Award: $9,967 to produce a virtual 3-D tour of the museum complex to expand outreach efforts and create new opportunities for education. In addition, develop a STEM-based distance learning program for youth blending concepts of robotics and canal infrastructure.
  • City of Amsterdam – Award: $11,757 to institute creative, place-based visitor enhancements at Riverlink Park and Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook.
  • Corn Hill Navigation, Pittsford – Award: $11,388 to implement a variety of educational initiatives aboard the Sam Patch, including a bird watching tour in partnership with the Montezuma Audubon Society, and hands-on learning for students in the Erie Canal Environmental Education program, which blends STEM, history, and environmental curriculums.
  • Erie Canal Museum, Syracuse – Award: $11,000 to partner with restaurants and other local businesses to offer public programming on the Erie Canal’s relationship to food, specifically as it pertains to agriculture, irrigation and transportation of goods.
  • Erie Canal Discovery Center/Niagara County Historical Society, Lockport – Award: $4,180 to support the development of five virtual lessons on the history, geography, engineering and national impact of the Erie Canal.
  • Lumber City Development Corporation, North Tonawanda – Award: $3,500 to install a historic mural near the dock area at Gateway Harbor Park in the City of North Tonawanda, enhancing the beauty of the park for visitors while establishing a strong sense of place and heritage.
  • Montezuma Audubon Center, Savannah – Award: $10,865 to organize a Canalway Conservation Corps to develop early detection invasive species management programs and STEM-based educational opportunities at the Montezuma Wetlands Complex.
  • Village of Brockport – Award: $4,830 to enhance Brockport’s self-guided walking tour by upgrading tour materials and interpretive panels.
  • Village of Medina – Award: $10,500 to develop and install an ADA accessible kayak launch located on the Erie Canal in the heart of downtown Medina.
  • Village of Newark – Award: $1,500 to repair vandalism damage to a prominent Erie Canal themed mural on the canalfront and guard against further damage or deterioration with protective coatings.
  • Western New York Land Conservancy, Inc., East Aurora – Award: $12,000 to transform an unused rail corridor into The Riverline, an iconic, innovative, and inspiring nature trail and greenway along the Buffalo River near the terminus of the Erie Canal.

750-mile Empire State Trail complete, making nation’s longest multi-use state trail

Posted 30 December 2020 at 5:29 pm

Photo by Tom Rivers: The Erie Canal towpath which is part of the Empire State Trail is shown today in Eagle Harbor near the lift bridge.

Press Release, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Office

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced completion of the Empire State Trail, now the nation’s longest multi-use state trail, which will be fully open on December 31.

The trail spans 750-miles total, 75 percent of which is off-road trails ideal for cyclists, hikers, runners, cross-country skiers and snow-shoers. The new recreational trail, which runs from New York City through the Hudson and Champlain Valleys to Canada, and from Albany to Buffalo along the Erie Canal, will provide a safe and scenic pathway for New Yorkers and tourists to experience New York State’s varied landscapes. The Empire State Trail is expected to draw 8.6 million residents and tourists annually.

“Nearly four years ago, we announced plans to build the Empire State Trail and I am excited to announce it’s been completed on time and will open on New Year’s Eve,” Governor Cuomo said. “There’s no trail like it in the nation – 750 miles of multi-use trail literally from Manhattan to the Canadian Border, from Buffalo to Albany. Not only does it provide an opportunity to experience the natural beauty and history of New York, but it also gives New Yorkers from every corner of the state a safe outlet for recreation as we continue to grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic. As we approach the holiday weekend, there is no better time than now to put on your mask and experience it for yourself.”

Introduced in the Governor’s 2017 State of the State address, the Empire State Trail will be open year-round, including winter. It connects 20 regional trails to create a continuous statewide signed route. As part of the 58 distinct projects to complete the Trail on time, more than 180 miles of new off-road trail was created and 400 miles of previously disconnected, off-road trails were linked to eliminate gaps and ease engineering challenges such as railroad and water crossings in high traffic areas.

The New York State Department of Transportation improved 170 miles of on-road bicycle route sections to enhance safety and travel on low-speed rural roadways and city streets when possible. New York State also installed 45 gateways and trailheads along the route to welcome visitors and branded the trail with signage, interpretive panels, bike racks, and benches.

The Empire State Trail website provides quick and easy access to trail information including segment descriptions, access points, trail distances, parking areas, restrooms, and nearby amenities and attractions.

The website’s responsive and user-friendly design allows users to access interactive maps from mobile devices, zoom in to specific location of interest, and download/print maps of trail segments. Cyclists can print “cue sheets” with highly detailed directions for following a selected trail segment. The site also features information about the variety of activities and destinations on or near the trail such as campgrounds, parks, historic sites, and popular stops among the local communities.

Recently completed projects that finalize the trail include:

Hudson Valley

  • Albany-Hudson Electric Trail: The Hudson River Valley Greenway constructed 36 miles of off-road and on road trails from the city of Rensselaer to the City of Hudson in Rensselaer and Columbia counties. The $45 million trail follows the historic route of an electric trolley which operated from 1900 to 1929. The corridor is owned by National Grid, which authorized New York State to build a trail on the route.
  • Maybrook Trailway: Metro-North Railroad constructed a new 23-mile rail-trail on its inactive “Beacon Line” corridor from Hopewell Junction in Dutchess County to Brewster in Putnam County passing through the towns of Pawling, Southeast, Paterson, Beekman and East Fishkill. Along the route, the trail winds through rural landscapes and wooded areas featuring seasonal waterfalls and crosses the Appalachian Trail. The $42 million Beacon Line was the first all-rail freight connection across the Hudson River north of New York City. It originally opened as a rail line in 1892 and served as a vital transportation link between New York and southern New England, carrying trains between Derby Junction and Maybrook, via the bridge over the Hudson River at Poughkeepsie that is now the Walkway Over the Hudson.
  • Hudson River Brickyard Trail: The City of Kingston constructed a new 1.5-mile Empire State Trail section along the Hudson River shoreline. The $1.4 million project was built with City of Kingston and Town of Ulster funds matched by state grants from the Department of State and Hudson River Valley Greenway.
  • Battery Park City Gateway: The $450,000 gateway marks the southern terminus of the trail in Lower Manhattan.

Erie Canalway Trail

  • The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Gateways: These four gateways in Western New York provide a welcoming connection for trail visitors at key access points in: Buffalo Harbor State Park in Buffalo; at the western entrance to the Erie Canal in Tonawanda; at Five Locks Park in Lockport; and in Genesee Valley Park in Rochester. The gateways include kiosks featuring local and statewide trail information, bicycle racks, and shaded granite block seating. Each gateway features a “Ralph C. Wilson, Jr.” memorial plaque honoring the late owner of the Buffalo Bills. The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation provided $2.6 million dollars for the gateways.
  • Macedon Bridge: NYSDOT restored a closed vehicle bridge over the Erie Canal. The $4.2 million investment created a bicycling and walking trail and created a local park.
  • Erie Blvd-Syracuse: NYSDOT constructed a 3-mile trail in the median of Erie Blvd, from East Syracuse to DeWitt. The project cost $23 million.
  • Loop the Lake Trail-Syracuse: Onondaga County constructed a new 1.5-mile trail on the south shore of Onondaga Lake, including a new bicycle/pedestrian bridge over CSX’s rail line. The project was funded with County and federal funds.
  • Utica: New York State Canal Corporation constructed a new 3.5-mile trail east of Utica for $9.3 million
  • Herkimer County: New York State Canal Corporation completed a new 2.2-mile trail section Lock E18 to Route 167, a new 1.3-mile trail section Frankfort to Ilion, and a new 2-mile trail from Ilion to Mohawk. These projects totaled $16.4 million.

Champlain Canalway

  • Fort Edward to Fort Ann: The New York State Canal Corporation constructed two adjacent trail sections. The $14.3 million investment created a 12-mile trail from Fort Edward to Fort Ann.
  • Fort Ann to Comstock: NYSDOT built a new 0.75-mile off-road trail in Washington County and designated a 7-mile route on local roads and cost $2 million.

New York State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said, “The Empire State Trail is a testament to Governor Cuomo’s vision to make New York State an unmatched destination for outdoor recreation. Everyone from the most experienced long-distance cyclists to family groups with children will enjoy this pathway. People can take a quick bike ride or walk close to home, or they can plan a multi-day adventure to take them from one end of the state to the other.”

New York State Canal Corporation Director Brian U. Stratton said, “Governor Cuomo’s vision for the newly-completed Empire State Trail merges economic development with the beautiful views along the Canal system to create exceptional outdoor recreation opportunities, both for residents of canalside communities and for visitors from across New York and beyond. The Erie Canalway and Champlain Canalway Trail segments of the Empire State Trail reintroduce New Yorkers to the historic towpaths of our state’s storied waterways and connect a new generation to the rich heritage of the New York Canal system.”

Volunteers will be out Dec. 28 for annual bird count at Oak Orchard Swamp

Posted 17 December 2020 at 9:45 am

Photos courtesy of Celeste Morien: This Mallard is pictured at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge.

Press Release, Oak Orchard Christmas Bird Count Compiler Celeste Morien

SHELBY – It’s time again for the Oak Orchard Swamp Christmas Bird Count! The count began in December 1968. The National Audubon Society has been sponsoring Christmas Bird Counts for 120 years and the Friends of Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge provide support for this local count.

Count compiler Celeste Morien of Medina would like the public to be alert for counters with spotting scopes and binoculars who will be out and about December 28th on local roads, searching for birds in fields and at bird feeders.

Brown Creeper

Filling bird feeders now and keeping them stocked ahead of the count helps fulfill the count objective of counting all wild birds seen and heard within the circle! Our Oak Orchard Swamp count is centered at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge on the Orleans and Genesee County line at Route 63.

Count volunteers follow specified routes through a designated 15-mile diameter circle, which includes more than the refuge and state wildlife areas, counting every bird they see or hear all day. It’s not just a species tally—all birds are counted all day, giving an indication of the total number of birds in the circle that day.

According to the Audubon website, “Prior to the turn of the 20th century, hunters engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas “Side Hunt.” They would choose sides and go afield with their guns—whoever brought in the biggest pile of feathered (and furred) quarry won.

Conservation was in its beginning stages in that era, and many observers and scientists were becoming concerned about declining bird populations. Beginning on Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, an early officer in the then-nascent Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition—a “Christmas Bird Census” that would count birds during the holidays rather than hunt them.

So began the Christmas Bird Count. Thanks to the inspiration of Chapman and the enthusiasm of 27 dedicated birders, 25 Christmas Bird Counts were held that day. The locations ranged from Toronto, Ontario to Pacific Grove, California with most counts in or near the population centers of northeastern North America.

Nowadays, from December 14 through January 5 each year, tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas brave snow, wind, or rain, and take part in the effort. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this long-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations, and to help guide conservation action.

The data collected by observers over the past century allow Audubon researchers, conservation biologists, wildlife agencies and other interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. When combined with other surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey, the “CBC” provides a picture of how the continent’s bird populations have changed in time and space over the past hundred years.

Evening Grosbeak

The long term perspective is vital for conservationists. It informs strategies to protect birds and their habitat, and helps identify environmental issues with implications for people as well.

If your home is within the circle and you are at home on count day, you can report the birds that visit your feeder. Anyone can participate, but arrangements must be made with the compiler. To do so, please contact

Please consider donating to the Christmas Count (click here) since the Audubon Society no longer collects fees from each participant.

13,000 birds were counted at last year’s event

There were 21 volunteers at last year’s event and they counted 62 species and 13,248 individual birds, including 20 Bald Eagles and 493 Herring Gulls.

A list of species at last year’s count includes:

  • Canada Goose, 4,447; European Starling, 4,105; House Sparrow, 690; Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon), 499; Herring Gull, 493; Mallard, 327;
  • Ring-billed Gull, 307; Black-capped Chickadee; 287; American Crow, 270; Mourning Dove, 173; Red-winged Blackbird, 151; American Tree Sparrow, 142;
  • Dark-eyed Junco, 140; Brown-headed Cowbird, 139; American Goldfinch, 127; Northern Cardinal, 109; Blue Jay, 102; Cedar Waxwing, 85; Downy Woodpecker, 83;
  • White-Breasted Nuthatch, 73; House Finch, 62; Eastern Bluebird, 48; Wild Turkey, 48; Red-tailed Hawk, 47; Red-bellied Woodpecker, 46; American Black Duck, 31;
  • Hairy Woodpecker, 30; Northern Flicker, 29; American Robin, 22; White-throated Sparrow, 21; Bald Eagle, 20; Tufted Titmouse, 17; Horned Lark, 10; Song Sparrow, 9;
  • Brown Creeper, 9; Pileated Woodpecker, 8; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 5; Eastern Screech Owl, 5; Cooper’s Hawk, 5; Northern Harrier, 4; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 3; American Kestral, 3; Sharp-shinned Hawk, 3; Great Blue Heron, 3; Ring-necked Pheasant, 3;
  • Carolina Wren, 2; Common Raven, 2; Merlin, 2; Great Horned Owl, 2; Common Merganser, 2;
  • Yellow-Romped Warbler, 1; Hermit Thrush, 1; Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 1; Northern Shrike, 1; and Barred Owl, 1.

IJC plans to exceed water flows from Plan 2014 this winter

Photo by Tom Rivers: This photo from December 2017 shows waves from Lake Ontario crashing onto the Lake Ontario shoreline in Kendall, where some new breakwalls were constructed after destructive flooding that year.

Posted 14 December 2020 at 11:52 am

Actions should make Lake Ontario less vulnerable to flooding in spring

Press Release, International Joint Commission

The International Joint Commission (IJC) has approved the International Lake Ontario- St. Lawrence River Board’s request for authority to deviate from Plan 2014, and as conditions permit, outflows from the Moses-Saunders dam on the St. Lawrence River can be increased to exceed Plan 2014 flows.

The risk of high water on Lake Ontario in 2021 is moderate due to persistent high-water levels on Lake Erie and the upper Great Lakes. This will cause inflows to Lake Ontario from Lake Erie to remain high over the coming winter months. The main driver of a high-water event in the Lake Ontario basin will depend on seasonal factors such as precipitation and snowpack runoff.

Since June, Lake Ontario levels have steadily declined to just above the seasonal long-term average. Levels remain well below those that would automatically grant the Board the authority to deviate from Plan 2014 outflows.

The Board and IJC recognize the continued threats posed by high water supplies into the system and the risk of another high-water event in 2021. The Board will implement a deviation strategy to take advantage of opportunities that may arise through the winter.

The IJC has granted this authority under Condition J of its Orders of Approval, which allows for the testing of some regulatory deviation strategies from Plan flows. This authority will begin on Jan. 1, 2021 and continue through the end of February.

This regulatory strategy will be reassessed in February and could be revised with a request for further deviation authority from the IJC should conditions warrant. During this period flow limits are expected to pertain to low Lake St Lawrence levels, municipal water intakes and river ice formation.

All deviation strategies, regardless of magnitude of impact, implemented by the Board in this time frame are intended to cumulatively reduce the risk of high-water impacts and balance the interests of other groups throughout the system.

There remains considerable uncertainty in the weather and water supply conditions between now and next spring. These natural, uncontrolled hydrologic factors are the primary driver of water level fluctuations on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.

If basin conditions are extremely wet, and similar to those observed in 2017 and 2019, no deviation strategy will prevent water levels that can cause flooding and damage shoreline properties. Providing those types of benefits are beyond the reach of water regulation and are more reliably addressed through coastal resilience and planning.