The Cayuga-Seneca Canal

By Carmelo “Mel” Russo

A unique feature of Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake is the splendid canal which connects the two largest Finger Lakes. This amazing engineering feat not only links the two lakes to each other, but also allows access to the rest of the world’s waterways. To do this, a boat on Seneca Lake needs only to descend approximately 25 feet through the locks in Waterloo, then about 50 feet through two more consecutive lock systems in Seneca Falls.  The canal eventually outlets at the north end of Cayuga Lake. From there, a boat may enter the Barge Canal system by descending 11 feet at “Mud Locks” at the head of Montezuma Wildlife Refuge into the Oswego River system, to Lake Ontario, and so forth.

Prior to the building of this original part of the Barge (Erie) Canal System in 1829, there was a natural waterway between the two lakes described by early settlers as a “babbling brook.” Early explorers, as late as the eighteenth century, record that the babbling brook was overflowing with the Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), originally a native of Seneca and Cayuga Lakes and their tributary streams, as well as Oneida Lake and its tributaries. Writings of early inhabitants of the Finger Lakes area report that the salmon were so plentiful that they could fill a boat in a short time by simply clubbing the fish with their paddles. The original stock population of this species was able to ascend the Oswego River system and go as far west as Seneca Lake.  The canal and the many mills constructed along the river put an abrupt end to the copious and natural reproduction of salmon in our area.

The Cayuga-Seneca Canal was re-structured in 1915, leaving the remnants of the old canal bed which can still be observed in the proximity of the banks of the existing canal. From an ecological standpoint, the canal systems spelled disaster for the existing ecosystems, which had developed over thousands of years in Seneca Lake, Cayuga Lake and their associated watersheds.

The canal and locks allowed for the invasion of the lakes of the more quiet water fish which caused the disruption of a 10,000 year old ecosystem. Nevertheless, much natural life continues to thrive in the Finger Lakes area; and it’s a great place to live, so buy some real estate from Senecayuga Properties.