New York State is a Great Lakes State! This is a fact many forget, as New York also has a coastline along the Atlantic Ocean.
We are so lucky to have so much freshwater on our doorstep here in Western New York. Water is life. Even with this abundance of water, many communities have become disconnected from our water resources. This may stem from physical barriers, a lack of access or missed outdoor experiences in early childhood. Rekindling these connections to our waterways is folded into our mission, and a key component to our educational programming. So let’s take a dive into a water concept that causes much bewilderment: the watershed.
What Is a Watershed?
A watershed is an area of land that drains into a river, lake or other bodies of water.
Think of it as a bathtub. If water flows into the bathtub, it will travel towards the drain. If water escapes the bathtub, the water will flow elsewhere. The bathtub is your watershed, and the drain is a receiving waterway.
The Niagara River Watershed
What Is a Tributary?
Subwatersheds of the Niagara River
Buffalo Creek may have the most miles of high quality, headwater trout streams.
Six wetland areas occur in the headwaters; several are hydraulically connected to the underlying aquifer and support heritage strains of brook trout. Queen snake and two listed species of freshwater mussel, fragile papershell and slippershell, are found in mid-reaches. Upland and mid-reaches have significant tracts of natural land, including three County forests plus the 384-acre Beaver Meadow Audubon Center and the 789-acre Hunter’s Creek County Park.
The Buffalo River sub-basin varies across ecoregions
From high quality upland forests and streams down to the urban-industrial corridor and “Area of Concern” approaching Lake Erie. Headwaters include the East and West Branches of Cazenovia Creek, which rise in the Towns of Sardinia and Concord respectively, and flow northwest to join in the Village of East Aurora. This sub-basin has 31 tracts of riparian forest greater than 50 acres in size and at least 100 meters in width from water’s edge, and 49 tracts of unbroken core forest greater than 500 acres. As with streams originating in the Cattaraugus Hills, the cold Buffalo River headwaters support trout and other aquatic communities of statewide significance, (Hunt, 2002) but are compromised by barriers limiting fish passage.
Cayuga Creek includes Little Buffalo, Slate Bottom and Plum Bottom Creeks as tributaries for a total of 356 stream miles.
It begins in primarily farmland/wooded areas in higher elevation Wyoming County and passes through several residential areas before its confluence with Buffalo Creek near Cheektowaga. In Cheektowaga, Reinstein Woods Preserve and Stiglmeier Park include the freshwater wetlands of Cayuga Creek and the Creek itself. In Lancaster, Como Lake County Park also includes portions of Cayuga Creek.
Eighteenmile Creek is a large, meandering stream whose upland forests and spring-fed headwater tributaries are part of a functional landscape providing natural overhanging cover, material contribution and good water quality to the system.
Mid-reaches of both the main stream and principal tributary, South Branch, flow through steep-sided, undeveloped, wooded gorges with 70-150 foot high shale cliffs, cold springs and seeps, and talus communities of probable biodiversity significance. The lower half-mile is low gradient, 75-100 feet wide, with a broad floodplain, including potential patches of clayplain forest and/or limestone woodland with abundant swamp white oak.
Ellicott Creek flows northwest from headwater wetlands in the Town of Darien (southwest corner of Genesee County) to the City of Tonawanda where it joins Tonawanda Creek about a half mile above its mouth at the Niagara River.
While the upper reaches (upstream of Transit Rd.) are less developed; the lower reaches flow through the residentially and commercially developed Towns of Lancaster, Amherst and Tonawanda.
From the Village of Pendleton to its mouth on the Niagara River, the last 11.6 miles of Tonawanda Creek is channelized and dredged to a width of 75 feet and a depth of 12 feet to accommodate the Erie Canal.
From April through November, a lock diverts Lower Tonawanda Creek to flow backward approximately 19 miles northeast through the canal to Lockport.
From the City of Batavia to the Village of Pendleton, Middle Tonawanda Creek includes parts of seven towns and the Tonawanda Seneca territory.
Its northern border is formed by the Niagara Escarpment and its southern, in part, by the Onondaga Escarpment which the creek crosses at Indian Falls. In the 20‐mile stretch from Indian Falls downstream to the Village of Pendleton, where the creek meets the Barge Canal, Tonawanda Creek’s broad floodplain and many wetlands are a remnant of glacial Lake Tonawanda.
Biodiversity features and conservation opportunities in the Niagara River sub‐basin vary according to three major geographies:
The Upper River including the stream drainages above Niagara Falls; the Lower River, including the Niagara Gorge; and the natural (unpopulated) islands. Niagara Falls was the historic natural barrier between the four Upper Great Lakes and the Lower Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River system. The Niagara River has the most biodiversity in the Niagara River Watershed. The Niagara Gorge, once considered one of the most botanically diverse places in North America, still supports many rare plants and communities.
Smoke’s Creek rises in the Town of Orchard Park and flows northwest for 15 miles to its mouth on Lake Erie.
Its one principal tributary, South Branch, is 12 miles long. The creek is named after “Old Smoke,” a Seneca leader whose son traditionally carried the fire—the “smoking brand”—from the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederacy Council fire at Onondaga to the Seneca Nation council fire in Western New York. Old Smoke lived near this creek in his later years and was buried here.
Murder Creek is its own sub-watershed and the major tributary to Middle Tonawanda Creek.
Located primarily in the southwestern portion of the Genesee County, Murder Creek also includes many low-lying areas and meanders through the Towns of Pembroke and Newstead.
From its source in the Towns of Wethersfield and Java the creek flows north through the Towns of Alexander and Batavia where the terrain levels out and the active floodplain broadens.
The main branch, Little Tonawanda Creek, joins Tonawanda in the Town of Batavia. At the City of Batavia, the Onondaga Escarpment blocks further flow north and the creek turns west towards the Niagara River. The confluence with another tributary, Bowen Creek, marks the northwestern boundary of the Upper Tonawanda Creek Subwatershed.
Scajaquada Creek runs through Forest Lawn Cemetery. The project in Forest Lawn Cemetery creates a scenic environment for visitors, while also helping to improve flooding conditions.
The Riverwatch Program consists of concerned citizens trained to use the latest technology to gather important water quality data in the Niagara River Watershed. Volunteers conduct monthly monitoring of streams in their neighborhood and also provide a network of “Eyes on the Water” to report pollution or improper land uses on these waterways.
We’re working with community partners to guide a community vision for the Scajaquada Corridor and working with the GBNRTC on a plan for a vibrant corridor with a transportation plan that makes it possible. Check out our website to learn more!