Pilot Program Will Test Innovative Ice Breaking Methods This Winter as Part Of The Reimagine The Canals Initiative in Schenectady County
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a new pilot program to help improve resiliency along the Erie Canal and Mohawk River in Schenectady County and address the complex causes of ice jams in the Mohawk River. Initial efforts will include testing the ice-breaking ability of tugboats, as well as a newly acquired amphibious dredger to limit the formation of sheet ice. The program was developed by the New York Power Authority and New York State Canal Corporation, as part of the Reimagine the Canals initiative introduced in the Governor's 2020 State of the State address. It was also developed in partnership with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Clarkson University, Union College, United States Geological Survey, National Weather Service, and the United States Army Corps of Engineers.
"We continue to take bold steps to transform our waterways and improve the resiliency of communities along the Erie Canal," Governor Cuomo said. "Ice jams have long been a problem throughout the state, especially along the Mohawk River. In line with our goal of bringing the Erie Canal into the 21st century, we're piloting several innovative approaches that will reduce the threat of flooding and bring peace of mind to residents, and economic stability in the region."
The first initiative will address flooding in Schenectady County and involves testing the ability of tugboats to limit the formation of sheet ice in the Erie Canal and Mohawk River upstream of the Vischer Ferry Dam through and past the Rexford Gorge. The tugboats operated this season are under contract by New York State Marine Highway Transportation Company of Troy, New York, and will be moored at Lock E-7 in Niskayuna.
Additionally, the Canal Corporation has acquired a new Watermaster Amphibious Multipurpose Dredger. This unique vessel will be used year-round for Canal maintenance activities, but will also be tested out on ice-breaking operations in the Lock E-7 harbor this winter. If proven to be safe and effective, it may play a role in future ice-breaking activities as the ice jam mitigation program develops.
This ice-breaking initiative represents the first component of a wider resilience program now under development. Ultimately, the plan envisions a coordinated system of interventions, including potentially altering the width and depth of the Mohawk River channel in critical locations, retrofitting the Vischer Ferry Dam at Lock E-7 with variable crest gates to enable the raising and lowering of water levels upstream at critical times, and monitoring ice conditions with cameras and sensors.
In his 29th proposal of his 2020 State of the State, Governor Cuomo unveiled a $300 million plan to reimagine the Erie Canal to mitigate flooding, enhance irrigation and recreational fishing, restore wetlands, and create recreational activities on the Canal to boost tourism.
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said, "This initiative is a testament to New York's ingenuity—using what we have in new ways and rethinking how to address issues that significantly affect upstate communities. Minimizing flood damage in river-adjacent areas will provide a sense of stability in the Mohawk River Valley, at a time of such uncertainty. Our communities rely on us to convene and solve problems and offer creative solutions that will provide solutions for generations to come."
New York Power Authority President and CEO Gil C. Quiniones said, "This program, through the Reimagine the Canals initiative, to mitigate ice jams in the Capital Region is another example of Governor Cuomo's commitment to protect our communities and support them in becoming more resilient. As our climate changes, these sorts of efforts will be even more critical in ensuring our success to keep local economies strong while preserving key infrastructure and natural resources."
New York State Canal Corporation Director Brian U. Stratton said, "As the former mayor of Schenectady, I know firsthand that flooding from ice jams is serious and we believe our efforts this year will begin to help mitigate the ice and high-water challenges that Capital Region communities face each winter. We are dedicated to testing new innovations to ensure that our canal-side neighbors will be less affected by winter ice and spring flooding."
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, "As communities across New York State look for cost-effective and strategic ways to adapt to increased severe storms and flooding because of our changing climate, Governor Cuomo is partnering with local leaders to develop proactive solutions to protect communities and critical infrastructure from destructive ice jams and flooding and providing the resources and manpower needed for implementation. Identifying effective ice-breaking initiatives will increase resiliency along these riverfront and canal side communities, safeguarding local assets and infrastructure from harm."
Assemblyman Phil Steck said, "My constituents have been seeking a solution to the problem of ice-jam flooding in the Mohawk River since I first entered The Assembly in 2013. The Governor, Canal Corporation, and NYPA have responded by studying the issue and now putting the results of those studies into action. On behalf of my constituents, we are most grateful for their efforts. While this pilot program is exciting, flooding in the Mohawk River is a complex problem which may require additional work in the future, such as alterations to the Vischer Ferry Dam at Lock E-7."
Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara said, "The Schenectady area has a long history of ice jams along the Mohawk River. Year after year flooding has forced people out of their homes, caused millions of dollars in property damage and threatened the health and safety of our community— the most recent flooding affecting residents in the historic Stockade and Schenectady County Community College. As a civil engineer, I know it's possible to solve problems like this. It's something that must be addressed and taking these proactive steps to prepare is the smart thing to do. Having a plan in place and implementing effective measures to help prevent and break-up ice jams along the Mohawk River can save millions in flood damage, clean up and recovery costs, and infrastructure repairs.
Schenectady County Legislature Chairman Anthony Jasenski said, "Schenectady County welcomes any efforts to reduce ice buildup and flooding along the Mohawk River. We will continue working with the state and our local municipalities to protect our riverfront communities."
City of Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said, "I very much look forward to working with Governor Cuomo, NYPA and the Canal Corporation on this program in an effort to bring relief to city residents who are affected by ice jams and high water events, especially in our historic Stockade neighborhood. The efforts put forward this winter with the ice breaking tugs are a great step towards the long term goal of mitigating this issue."
Clarkson University Professor Dr. Hung Tao Shen said, "Clarkson University's River Ice Research Group is working in collaboration with NYPA and the Canal Corporation to apply the most advanced computer modeling on river ice dynamics as we investigate potential mitigation measures.These efforts include ice breaking to enhance the ice movement during the breakup period, the potential dredging of key locations within the Canal that might cause ice jamming, and the possible modification of the Vischer Ferry Dam to flush ice downstream."
Union College Professor Dr. John Garver said, "The plans announced by Governor Cuomo to mitigate ice jamming on the lower Mohawk River are an important first step. The goal of these efforts is to break ice up and move it more efficiently through the Mohawk channel, especially in the problematic area between the Rexford Gorge and the Vischer Ferry Dam and if these actions are successful, there may well be a significant reduction in back up flooding due to ice jams."
NYPA, the Canal Corporation, and partners will evaluate the effectiveness of the ice breaking tests at the conclusion of the winter season and will incorporate lessons learned from this pilot into future resiliency planning efforts and operations.
For more information about the Reimagine the Canals program, and the resiliency efforts associated with it, please visit the Canal Corporation's website.