Adirondack Reservoirs: Water for the Erie Canal
Wednesday, May 5th, 2021 5:30pm to 7:00pm
: Online, registration requiredRegistration required
Speaker: Ray Letterman, Emeritus Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Syracuse University
The Erie Canal connected Lake Erie at Buffalo with the Hudson River at Albany and was a transforming accomplishment for the State of New York. It had almost immediate success and was profitable for its investors and the State. Its construction started in 1818, ended in 1825, and it was essentially paid for by 1836. The Canal helped the United States grow in its formative years, it gave rise to many cities, towns and villages (including Syracuse) and it launched New York City toward becoming the center of commerce and finance it is today.
The early 1800s was the formative period for civil engineering and hydrology in the United States and, perhaps consequently, during dry periods there was never enough water to effectively operate the Canal, especially in the summit section between Utica and Syracuse. As this periodic problem became more costly, additional water was sought from new sources, and this required new dams, reservoirs and feeder canals.
In 1849 the Black River watershed in the western Adirondacks became an important source of water for the summit section of the Canal, and dams and reservoirs were built to increase the reliability of this flow. Eventually a number of these reservoirs became important recreational attractions with numerous hotels and seasonal homes. Intensive logging and fires were destroying large parts of the forests and many in New York became concerned that this would reduce the flow of water to the Canal. The formation of the Forest Preserve and Adirondack Park and the passage of the “forever wild” clause in the State constitution protected the forests and limited the building of new dams and reservoirs on Forest Preserve land. However, as hydroelectricity became increasingly important in the early 1900s, this protection was weakened and in the 1950s and 60s conservationists fought in the courts and state legislature to prevent the building of new dams and reservoirs.
Dr. Ray Letterman received undergraduate and graduate degrees are from Lehigh and Northwestern Universities. For 6 years he taught and conducted research in the Pritzker Department of Environmental Engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, and for 36 years in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Syracuse University. Hos research focused on particle removal processes in water treatment, and his teaching emphasized environmental and water resources engineering. Dr. Letterman has been retired from the University for about ten years. He lives in Fayetteville and spends summers on Fourth Lake in the central Adirondacks where he serves on the Board of Directors of the Fulton Chain of Lakes Association.