This page conforms to the XHTML standard and uses style sheets. If your browser doesn't support these, you may not see the page as designed, but all the text is still accessible to you.


Bringing the heritage of Schenectady County, New York to the world since 1996

You are here: Home » Mohawk River » Mohawk River Flooding » Abstract and Preface

Barge Canal / Mohawk River Flooding at Schenectady Examined:
Abstract, Preface and Objective

Go ahead to: Changed Natural Settings

This information is from p. 2 of Barge Canal / Mohawk River Flooding at Schenectady Examined: A Report to the People of Schenectady by James E. Duggan (Schenectady, 2007), and is reproduced here with permission of the author.


An unsponsored investigation has sought and considered the most reliable information available toward reaching informed, reasonable conclusions about riverfront flooding at Schenectady. This report of the investigation focuses on the character of the century-old NYS Barge Canal infrastructure that superseded the much smaller land-routed Erie Canal. The "permanent" Vischers Ferry Dam and its Niskayuna-Schenectady Pool are the key local elements in the usage of the river for navigation and power-generation.

Within the 185 billion gallons passing Schenectady annually from the Mohawk River's watershed, periodic heavy discharges and ice-jams always will threaten. A late-1970's study in Schenectady formed logic identifying the power-dam's deliberate inflexibility in dealing with these circumstances. The subsequent 1978 "Chronology of Floods…" report's contents included revealing press commentary re the new Vischer Ferry Dam in 1914 and 1916 as a problem — "State Engineers' Promises false", "…Dam a Blunder?", "Menace" of…Dam", to illustrate. That study, with all other reports and misleading (even erroneous) official NYS responses about the dam, resulted in no effort to mitigate the deficiencies and flooding. In 2007, remedial action is long overdue.

The Barge Canal's Vischers Ferry Dam, in raising a static Niskayuna-Schenectady Pool, has created unmanageable "poolside" vulnerability at Schenectady.

This current investigation has surfaced a "Book of Plans, NYS Barge Canal", by the State Engineer in 1920. One of the drawings (a) confirms the NYS intent for a "passive" Vischers Ferry Dam relying on overflows "for flood discharges", apparently to avoid flooding at Schenectady, and (b) raises suspicion that the engineers' design of a high vertical subsurface wall influences the frequency of flood-stages and their duration.

Free-flow events in June 2006 and mid-April 2007, as well as others, have shown that the passive dam and its static pool comprise the principal culprit during heavy discharges year-round, while the bridges and the "Knolls" are far-less responsible than usually supposed as "causes" of ice-jam flooding. Jams at those sites are more the by-products of the sheet-ice encouraged by diverting any current to power-production.

Three conclusions emerge. The Barge Canal infrastructure at Vischers Ferry is a major factor in canal/river flooding at Schenectady. Building a passive dam at the very wide Vischers Ferry location to impound an unmanageable pool was a strategic error, especially regarding its encouraging formation of thick sheet-ice. Adding "active" capabilities within the dam to discharge below the crest with minimal overflow and procedures for careful, brief pre-emptive lowering of the impounded pool and allowing maximum throughput will fulfill a goal of minimizing the vulnerability at Schenectady.

Recommendations encourage the Canal Corporation to commence a comprehensive investigation, followed by committed action to retrofit and manage the Vischers Ferry Dam as a fitting 21st-century remediation of the NYS original design error.


This effort does not pretend to match or include the specific capabilities needed in engineering, hydraulics or hydrology to grasp all aspects of the situation. After research with others during the mid-1970's, it simply documents concerned further thinking and the results of recent search for useful information, as well as many focused observations while enduring a repeatedly canal-filled cellar (and more) over three decades-plus.

Go to top of page | ahead to: Changed Natural Settings

You are here: Home » Mohawk River » Mohawk River Flooding » Abstract and Preface updated March 31, 2015

Copyright 2015 Schenectady Digital History Archive — a service of the Schenectady County Public Library