Tonawanda News — This past week, two people questioned Doug Taylor’s story on the water level in the original Erie Canal which he wrote was roughly six feet higher than it is today. One gentleman said it was only four feet and other, five feet. Well, Doug cleared up the confusion.
Doug wrote: “All three answers are correct — the level of water at the Buffalo Harbor is not constant- since the level of Lake Erie at the Harbor varies with the wind direction and the relative amount of snow and rain we are having. In addition, the water level in the canal is not a constant either, it varies with snow melt, rain fall, and how fast the water can get into the Niagara River. Back in the early days of the canal this was a bad enough problem that most of Tonawanda would get flooded out when the canal would come over its banks. To address this the State built what was called the State Ditches, essentially bypasses from the canal to the river that would take off some of the rain fall/snow melt load. I believe there were five ditches on the NT side and at least one on the Tonawanda side. In addition, a flood control bypass was added to the canal at Black Rock. This was essentially a lock of some form used as a big dump valve. In a pinch, the Tonawanda Locks could also be used as big dump valves. From all accounts that I’ve read the actual day to day water level difference could range anywhere from four to six feet. To be conservative, I used six-feet because if you built the height of the spillway dam too low, then boat traffic would be impeded. The existence of the State Ditches and the apparent use of the locks for flood control also reinforces the argument that the dam at Webster/Main had to be built to handle the highest expected water height difference.”