Seneca Lake Water Level

The NYS Canal Corporation maintains a water level gage and provides a year-to-date water level chart: Seneca Lake Level in Geneva

Concerns about high water led SLPWA to form a committee to study how lake level is managed on Seneca Lake. The results of the team’s investigation are complex. There are no simple answers that apply to every high water event. But here are some of the basics to consider:

Seneca Lake Water Flow

Seneca Lake is part of the network of lakes, canals and waterways that comprise the Oswego River Basin. The Oswego River Basin drains water from an area of 5,122 square miles, towards Lake Ontario.

The water flows from:

Keuka Lake into Seneca Lake, the change in elevation is 270 feet.

Seneca Lake through the Cayuga-Seneca Canal to Cayuga Lake, the change in elevation is 60 feet.

Cayuga Lake into the Barge Canal through the Mudlock gate-structure, the change in elevation is 9 feet.

Water can flow into Seneca Lake faster than it can flow out. The downstream area is relatively flat and the outflow is regulated; therefore the lake takes longer to drain than to fill.

All of the water in Seneca Lake leaves near Geneva through the Cayuga-Seneca Canal. The discharge is managed by the Seneca Falls Power Corporation through its hydroelectric power plants at Waterloo and at Seneca Falls. The power company’s objective is to generate clean electric power and stay within the compliance requirements of the Federal Energy Regulatory Authority (FERC). In addition, the New York State Canal Corporation operates a small bypass gate and locks in this region.

Seneca Lake discharges to Cayuga Lake where discharge is managed by the NYS Canal Corporation (NYSCC). NYSCC’s responsibilities are focused on safe navigation through the canals of New York State.

Ideally, when a high water event occurs, each lake will retain as much water as possible to balance the overall outflow to Lake Ontario at Oswego. The ideal is avoiding significant damage or navigational hazard anywhere throughout the Oswego River Basin.

Each lake has a rules curve to guide its water level management. But there is only voluntary coordination among the lakes to manage both lake level and water discharge from each lake. Since each management unit has different objectives there are occasional conflicts.

The Lake Level team is monitoring the overall process, attempting to make it all more transparent, and developing the competence to provide better water resource management and coordination throughout our watershed.