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Mohawk River

Mohawk River
Cohoes Falls, near the eastern end of the Mohawk River in Cohoes, New York
Name origin: Named for Mohawk Nation
Country United States
State New York
 - left Lansing Kill, West Canada Creek,
East Canada Creek,
 - right Oriskany Creek, Schoharie Creek,
Plotter Kill
Cities Schenectady, Amsterdam, Utica, Rome
Source East Branch Mohawk River and West Branch Mohawk River
 - location Ava, Oneida County, New York
 - elevation 920 ft (280 m) [1]
 - coordinates  [2]
Mouth Hudson River
 - elevation 10 ft (3 m) [3]
 - coordinates  [2]
Length 149 mi (240 km) [4]
Basin 3,412 sq mi (8,837 km2) [5]
Discharge for Cohoes
 - average 5,908 cu ft/s (167 m3/s) [6]
 - max 200,000 cu ft/s (5,663 m3/s) [7]
 - min 6 cu ft/s (0 m3/s) [7]
Hudson River watershed map showing the Mohawk River

The Mohawk River is a 149-mile-long (240 km)[4] river in the U.S. state of New York. It is the largest tributary of the Hudson River. The Mohawk flows into the Hudson in the Capital District, a few miles north of the city of Albany.[5] The river is named for the Mohawk Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy. It is a major waterway in north-central New York.


  • Course 1
  • River modifications 2
  • History 3
    • Watershed management 3.1
  • Flooding and discharge 4
  • Geologic history 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


From its source in Lewis County, the Mohawk River flows generally east through the Mohawk Valley, passing by the cities of Rome, Utica, Little Falls, Canajoharie, Amsterdam, and Schenectady before entering the Hudson River at Cohoes, just north of Albany.

River modifications

The river and its supporting canal, the Erie Canal (a part of the New York State Canal System, called the New York State Barge Canal for much of the 20th century), connect the Hudson River and port of New York with the Great Lakes at Buffalo, New York.[8] The lower part of the Mohawk River has five permanent dams, nine movable dams (seasonal), and five active hydropower plants.[9]

Schoharie Creek and West Canada Creek are the principal tributaries of the Mohawk River. Both of these tributaries have several significant dams including the Hinckley Dam on the West Canada and the Gilboa Dam on the upper reaches of Schoharie Creek. The Gilboa Dam, which was completed in 1926 as part of the New York City water supply system, is the subject of an active and aggressive rehabilitation project.[10]


The river has long been important to transportation and migration to the west as a passage through the Appalachian Mountains, between the Catskill Mountains and Allegheny Plateau to the south and the Adirondack Mountains to the north. The Mohawk Valley allowed easier passage than going over the mountains to the north or south of the valley. As a result, it was strategically important during the French and Indian War and the American Revolutionary War, and a number of important battles were fought here. The fertile Mohawk Valley also attracted early settlers.

In the early nineteenth century water transport was a vital means of transporting both people and goods. A corporation was formed to build the Erie Canal off the Mohawk River to Lake Erie. The canal cut shipping costs to Lake Erie by 95%. It also simplified and reduced the difficulties of westward settler migration.

The Mohawk Valley still plays an important role in transportation. Railroads followed the Water Level Route, as did major east-west roads such as Route 5 and Interstate 90.

The Mohawk River Heritage Corridor Commission was created to preserve and promote the natural and historic assets of the Mohawk River. This commission was created by the NY State Legislature in 1997 to improve historic preservation along the river.[11]

Watershed management

Historically, the Mohawk watershed has lacked a watershed management plan typical in many adjacent basins. In 2010, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation released the Mohawk River Basin Action Agenda, which is the first framework for a watershed management plan in this basin.[12] This plan identifies five priority goals for the Mohawk River Basin that are designed to enhance ecosystem health and the vitality of the region. The Action Agenda advocates an ecosystem-based approach to watershed management and it was developed by the NY DEC in collaboration with a number of stakeholders in the basin with public input.[13] In late October, 2014, Riverkeeper, an environmental advocacy / clean water watchdog organization announced that they will be expanding the reach of their efforts from the Hudson River to the Mohawk as well.

Flooding and discharge

The Mohawk River has a relatively long record of flooding that has been documented back to settlement in the 17th century.[14] The average volume of water that flows through the Mohawk is about 183,000,000,000 cubic feet (5.2 km3) every year.[14] Much of the water flows through the watershed in the spring as snow melts rapidly and enters the tributaries and the main trunk of the river. The maximum average daily flow on the river occurs between late March and early April. For the period between 1917 to 2000, the highest mean daily flow is c. 18,000 cu ft (510 m3) as measured at Cohoes, near the confluence with the Hudson. The lowest mean daily flow of 1,400 cu ft (40 m3) occurs in late August. There is a long record of significant and damaging floods along the entire length of the river.[14]

Because the river and its tributaries typically freeze in the winter, the spring melt is commonly accompanied by ice floes that get stuck and jammed along the main trunk of the river. This annual spring breakup typically occurs in the last few weeks of March, although there are plenty of floods that have occurred before or after this time. These ice jams can cause considerable damage to structures along the riverbanks and on the floodplain. The most severe flood of record on the main trunk of the Mohawk River was the spring breakup flood that occurred from 27–28 March 1914. This flood caused a tremendous amount of damage to the infrastructure because it was a spring breakup flood with enormous amounts of ice. Ice jams of some significance occur about every other year.[15][16]

One major flood on the Mohawk was on 26–29 June 2006, during the Mid-Atlantic United States flood of 2006. Flooding was caused by a stalled frontal system that resulted in 50 to 330 millimeters (2.0 to 13.0 in) of rain across central New York and widespread flooding occurred in the Mohawk, Delaware, and Susquehanna watersheds. Across the state, this event caused over US$227m in damage and resulted in the loss of four lives. This flooding was acute in the upper parts of the Mohawk watershed.[17]

The Mohawk River also saw significant flooding during the weeks between August 21, 2011 and September 5, 2011 due to torrential rains experienced from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. Many of the Mohawk Barge Canal locks sustained major damage, especially near Waterford, NY and Rotterdam Junction, NY.

Another major flood was on June 28, 2013. It was caused because of heavy rain in the region has been falling for weeks, and then on the night of June 27, 2013, it is reported in the Jordanville, NY area that 4 inches of rain fell in one hour that night. The next day, the Mohawk River completely flooded the valley, residents were stranded, and without power for approximately a week. There was extreme damage everywhere, especially Mohawk, NY and Fort Plain, NY.

Geologic history

As the Laurentian Glacier retreated, it blocked the outflow of Glacial Lake Iroquois. Instead of flowing down the St Lawrence Valley it flowed down the Mohawk River.

The Mohawk watershed drains a large section of the Catskill Mountains, the Mohawk Valley proper, and a section of the southern Adirondack Mountains. All three regions have distinct bedrock geology, and the underlying rocks become progressively younger to the south.[18] Overall, this part of New York is represented by lower Paleozoic sedimentary rocks that unconformably overlie the Grenville-aged (Proterozoic, here about 1.1 billion years old) metamorphic rocks of the Adirondacks.[19] In the watershed, these rocks are only significant in the headwaters of the West Canada Creek. Much of the main trunk of the Mohawk River sits in Cambro-Ordovician carbonates (limestone) and Middle Ordovician sandstones and shales.[20] The southern tributaries (Catskill Mountains) are underlain by a thin sequence of Devonian limestones that are overlain by a thick sequence of sandstones and shale of the Catskill Delta, which is also Devonian in age.[21]

During the Pleistocene (c. 1.8 to 0.01 mya), the watershed was extensively modified by continental glaciation. As a result of glacial scour and deposition, the surficial deposits in much of the watershed are poorly sorted boulder- and clay-rich glacial till. During deglaciation, several glacial lakes left varved clay deposits. In the final stages of deglaciation, approximately 13,350 years ago,[22] the catastrophic draining of Glacial Lake Iroquois, a pro-glacial lake, was through what would become the modern Mohawk Valley.[23] In this final phase, the enormous discharge of water caused local deep scour features (e.g. the Potholes at Little Falls), and extensive sand and gravel deposition, which is one of the key sources of municipal groundwater including the Scotia Delta, which is also known as the Great Flats Aquifer.[24]

See also


  1. ^ Source elevation derived from Google Earth search using GNIS source coordinates.
  2. ^ a b U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Mohawk River
  3. ^ Mouth elevation derived from Google Earth search using GNIS mouth coordinates.
  4. ^ a b U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map, accessed October 3, 2011
  5. ^ a b Mohawk River, The Columbia Gazetteer of North America
  6. ^ "USGS 01357500 MOHAWK RIVER AT COHOES NY". USGS. Retrieved 3 November 2014. 
  7. ^ a b "USGS 01357500 MOHAWK RIVER AT COHOES NY". USGS. Retrieved 3 November 2014. 
  8. ^ "The New York State Canal System" Carmella R. Mantello, In: Proceedings from the 2009 Mohawk Watershed Symposium, Union College, 27 March 2009
  9. ^ "Lower Mohawk River Fisheries" Norman McBride, In: Proceedings from the 2009 Mohawk Watershed Symposium, Union College, 27 March 2009
  10. ^ "The Gilboa Dam and Schoharie Reservoir" Howard Bartholomew, Michael Quinn, In: Proceedings from the 2009 Mohawk Watershed Symposium, Union College, 27 March 2009
  11. ^ Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor Commission website
  12. ^ Mohawk River Watershed Management, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
  13. ^ DEC Announces 2nd Meeting On Mohawk River Basin Action Agenda
  14. ^ a b c Historic flooding on the Mohawk River
  15. ^ Historical and modern ice jams on the Lower Mohawk River - Schenectady, New York
  16. ^ "A historical perspective of Ice Jams on the lower Mohawk River." John I. Garver, Jaclyn M.H. Cockburn, In: Proceedings from the 2009 Mohawk Watershed Symposium, Union College, 27 March 2009
  17. ^ "The Flood of June 2006 in the Mohawk, Delaware, and Susquehanna river basins." Thomas P Suro, United States Geological Survey, In: Proceedings from the 2009 Mohawk Watershed Symposium, Union College, 27 March 2009
  18. ^ Rickard, L.V., Y.W. Isachsen, and D.W. Fisher, 1970, Geologic Map of New York State, 1970. 1:250,000. Consists of five sheets: Niagara, Finger Lakes, Hudson-Mohawk, Adirondack, and Lower Hudson, Map and Chart Series No. 15
  19. ^ Physical Geography of New York
  20. ^ Lower Ordovician Faunas, stratigraphy, and sea-level history of the Middle Beekmantown Group, Northeastern NY, Journal of Paleontology; September 2006; v. 80; no. 5; p. 958-980
  21. ^ Geologic History of the north-central Appalachians, American Journal of Science, Vol. 297, September 1997, P.729-761
  22. ^ Catastrophic draining of Glacial Lake Iroquois, Catastrophic meltwater discharge down the Hudson Valley: A potential trigger for the Intra-Allerød cold period, Geology; February 2005; v. 33; no. 2; p. 89-92
  23. ^ John C. Ridge, Shed Brook Discontinuity and Little Falls Gravel: Evidence for the Erie interstade in central New York, GSA Bulletin; June 1997; v. 109; no. 6; p. 652-665.
  24. ^ "Responsible Planning for future ground water use from the Great Flats Aquifer" Thomas M. Johnson, in: Proceedings from the 2009 Mohawk Watershed Symposium, Union College, 27 March 2009

External links

Media related to at Wikimedia Commons

  • by J.I. GarverMOHAWK RIVER - Flooding and Watershed AnalysisUnion College edu:
  • NY State Department of Environmental Conservation - Mohawk River Basin Program Action Agenda (PDF, 928 Kb)
  • Groundwater Quality in the Mohawk River Basin, New York United States Geological Survey
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