Oneida Lake Education Initiative

"Your gateway to understanding Oneida Lake"

Water Level

 Oneida Lake’s water levels fluctuated naturally before 1910, the year the Caughdenoy Dam was built. Around this time, the elevation of the

lake’s water levels varied between 370 and 373 feet (113 - 114 m) above sea level. Water levels increased gradually from October to April and then dropped throughout summer and fall. Planned adjustments of the lake’s level did not start until improvements to the Caughdenoy Dam were made in 1951.


Today, the New York State Canal Corporation’s Syracuse office is responsible for water level maintenance for navigation. The Canal Corporation’s management scheme serves to decrease flood damage within the basin and to lessen property erosion from winter’s ice scour. During the summer and fall, lake levels are stabilized for maximum recreational use. The Canal Corporation considers three criteria when making water level decisions for Oneida Lake – minimizing habitat destruction, optimizing the lake’s biological productivity, and reducing potential harm to lakeside properties in the open water season. Balancing these standards is the key to successful lake level management.


The Canal Corporation uses minimum and maximum target elevations to maintain water levels during the navigation season (May - November). The minimum desired target elevation increases from 370.30 ft on April 1 to 371.15 ft by June 1. The target level then decreases to 370.60 ft on September 1 and 370.30 ft on December 1. The maximum desired elevation on April 1 is set at 371.00 ft and increases to 371.20 ft by June 1. It remains constant until August 15 and then decreases to 370.70 ft by December 1. The variation between the minimum and maximum targets does not exceed nine inches.


The gates at the Caughdenoy Dam are opened or closed incrementally during the navigation season to achieve targeted water levels. All gates are fully open by December 1 and remain that way throughout the winter and spring. The gates are not closed until at least April 1, depending on lake levels.


Since the advent of water level management, lake water levels have typically ranged between 368 and 371 feet (112 - 113 m). Peak elevation still occurs in the spring, but averages much less than in the early 1900s. Water levels are maintained at a relatively stable level throughout the navigation season, after which they are allowed to gradually recede when the gates at Caughdenoy are opened.


This managed pattern of water level fluctuation is quite different from what would occur naturally, resulting in several environmental changes. At low water, wetlands can become disconnected from Oneida Lake. Also, recreational opportunities decrease when lowered lake levels handicap marinas, boat launches, and private docks.





To learn more about Oneida Lake Water Level...

NY Canals Website

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