Dr. Joan Bushwell's Chimpanzee Refuge

One Effect of Low Rainfall

Here in the upper Mohawk Valley of central NY, we are accustomed to an abundance of water. Heck, the city of Utica typically receives around 100 inches of snow per year and that’s nothing compared to the Tug Hill Plateau just north. The summer of 2007 has been notable for a lack of rainfall, though, with some areas seeing only 10 percent of their normal rainfall during September. In fact, some areas are now on water restriction (no washing your car, watering the lawn, or stuff like that).

About 15 minutes north of town is the Hinckley Reservoir (known locally as Hinckley Lake) which was created about a century ago by damming the West Canada Creek (it’s a river, don’t ask why it’s called a creek). Originally, the water was to be used for the Erie Canal system. While this is still a main use, the dam also serves to provide electric power and the resulting lake is used as the potable water source for the city and many surrounding communities. Given the typical seasonal demands and cycles, the ice on the lake typically “goes out” in late April with considerable spill over the dam. By August, the level has usually dropped quite a bit, perhaps 20 feet (6 meters) below the spill level. The annual “increase in shore” is inconvenient for some, but generally not a major headache.

This year, things are a bit different. According to my USGS map, maximum lake level is 1223 feet above see level. A few days ago, the level was around 1188 feet, or about a 35 foot (10.5 meter) drop. The lake has reverted back to something like an extra wide river, giving a hint of the path of the original creek bed. Sandbars abound.

Check out the following sequence of photos showing the drop in lake level and the resulting shore change:

First, a shot from atop the dam. The large sand/mud flat is normally water covered.


The second shot is taken from the lake-side of the dam part way down and zoomed out from the first shot. Note the four large cement pillars. These are much larger than a human.


The third photo is from the water level looking back at the dam. Note the four pillars and compare to photo two!


The final photo is 180 degrees about from the third, looking down the lake, taken from a similar vantage point of shot number two. The large clump of trees just behind the left edge of the sandbar normally is an island.


I will try to get some photos come April 2008 for comparison.


  1. #1 Suesquatch
    October 2, 2007

    Here in northeastern NY I was gratified at the lack of a spring mud season.

    Those are great shots. I take it that reservoir provides parts of Utica?

  2. #2 JimFiore
    October 3, 2007

    All of Utica and many surrounding suburbs.

  3. #3 JimFiore
    October 3, 2007

    I was gratified at the lack of a spring mud season.

    Have you ever heard the joke about the six seasons of upstate NY?

    1. Winter
    2. Still Winter
    3. Mud
    4. Black Flies
    5. Road Construction
    6. Autumn

    In some areas they add a seventh season, 2a: Geez, Haven’t We Had Enough Snow Already?

    I hate black flies, but there’s nothing quite like Autumn in the Adirondacks.

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