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Chemung River (Canisteo)

Site Description

The Canisteo River is in the headwaters of the Chemung River Basin (Figure 1). It is located in the glaciated Appalachian Plateau physiographic province and ecoregion. The proposed test bed extends to the USGS gage at West Cameron. The test bed is approximately 933 km 2 (360 mi 2), located in Steuben (76%) and Allegany (24%) counties. Small towns are located along the main stem of the river, with rural residences distributed through the watershed. Total population in the test bed is estimated to be 21,000.



Figure 1. The Chemung and Upper Susquehanna River Basins (shown in green and blue, respectively). The proposed test bed is highlighted in orange. (adapted from Susquehanna River Basin Commission, 2002).



The Canisteo is located in the glaciated Appalachian Plateau. Elevation varies from 285 m to 734 m above msl, and averages approximately 514 m. Bedrock is interbedded shale and sandstone from the Late Devonian (Canadaway Group). Wisconsinan age glacial deposits mantle the bedrock. Post-glacial alluvium occurs in and adjacent to modern channels.



Average annual rainfall ranges from 0.79 to 1.04 m/yr, varying with elevation. Evapotranspiration loss is estimated to be 0.61 - 0.81 m/yr. Mean annual temperature is 8.2°C. Surface drainage forms a trellis-shaped pattern (Figure 2). Aquifers include sand and gravel deposits of glacial origin. The bedrock is of much lower permeability, but has is sufficient for private wells. The test bed includes 11 digit Hydrologic Unit Code watersheds 02050104010, -20, -30, -40, -50, and a portion of -70 (to the USGS gage at West Cameron).


Land Use


Land use (Figure 2) is primarily forest (74%). Agriculture (25%) is concentrated in the northern portion of the basin. Rural residences are distributed throughout the watershed. Development and population is centered along the main stem of the river, near Hornell. Private septic systems rather than municipal treatment of wastewater prevail.

Major Issues

Local concerns center on flooding during major storm events and stream bank erosion. Streambank erosion mines the unconsolidated glacial deposits, resulting gravel deposition downstream in the channel. Flooding of the flat-lying lowlands along the main channel impacts use of the land for farming. Property damage due to flooding is a concern. Stream channels have been “managed” by some municipalities in efforts to control storm flow.


Regionally, the primary water quality issues are non-point source nutrient pollution and sediment transport. All states within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed are participating in a voluntary partnership to correct nutrient and sediment problems in the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries sufficiently to allow it to be removed by 2010 from the nation’s list of impaired water bodies under the Clean Water Act. The EPA, as a result of a lawsuit, will require Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) for the Chesapeake Bay in 2011 if these voluntary reductions are not successful. New York State’s goals are for the reduction of phosphorus and nitrogen loads delivered to the Bay from NY by 39 % and 34 %, respectively, by 2010. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has the lead role in developing an action plan to address this issue and the Upper Susquehanna Coalition (USC) is helping the process by facilitating stakeholder understanding and action through its outreach efforts.


Recent and Current Monitoring

The USGS maintains real-time stream gages on the Canisteo at Arkport, Hornell, and West Cameron. Alfred University maintains a stream gage on Canacadia Creek at their campus, and also monitors groundwater levels and precipitation.

Figure 2. The Canisteo River drainage system and major subwatersheds.



Agencies and Cooperators


Upper Susquehanna Coalition (USC), established in 1992, is a network of county natural resource professionals who develop strategies, partnerships, and programs to protect the headwaters of the Susquehanna River. Comprised of representatives from 11 counties in New York and 3 in Pennsylvania, the USC has partnered with local, regional, state, federal, academic and non-governmental organizations to conduct projects on varying watershed scales. It has no regulatory functions. USC has a strong outreach program and community contacts. Its main office is in Owego, NY. Web site:


The following organizations have partnered with the USC on projects in the Upper Susquehanna Basin:


Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay

Biological Field Station at Cooperstown affiliated with SUNY Oneonta

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Chesapeake Bay Program

Ducks Unlimited

Environmental Resources Research Institute at Penn State University

New York State Soil and Water Conservation Committee

New York State Water Resources Institute at Cornell University

Southern Tier Central Regional Planning and Development Board

Susquehanna River Basin Commission

Trout Unlimited

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


In May 2003, the EPA announced the recipients of the EPA Watershed Initiative grants. The Upper Susquehanna Coalition was one of 20 watershed groups selected from the field of 176 proposals to receive this $700K, two-year grant.




Alfred University, located at the headwaters of the Canisteo, has established a 1.9 km 2 research watershed at their campus with the support of the NSF’s Division of Undergraduate Education. Monitoring of precipitation, ground water and stream water began in 1999 and is ongoing. The Center for Environmental and Energy Research at Alfred University (CEER) is a multidisciplinary consortial research effort involving university faculty, industrial partners, and state and federal agencies. Supported by the EPA, CEER's mission is to meet the continuing national need for innovation and development in resource management, energy efficiency, and environment sustainability. CEER’s research aims to help maintain a sound industrial base and infrastructure without sacrificing the quality of our environment.


Binghamton University’s Center for Integrated Watershed Studies (CIWS) was established in 2003 to foster interdisciplinary, watershed-based research ( CIWS addresses the biological, geological, geographic, economic and societal components of watersheds, at all scales of integration - local, regional, and international. Activities range from field data collection for scholarly research to policy analysis and education. CIWS has a very active partnership with the Upper Susquehanna Coalition on projects in the Upper Susquehanna Basin, adding education and research components to their projects. With NSF support, Binghamton has established the campus’ watershed, Fuller Hollow Creek, as an instrumented research watershed. The watershed, a small tributary of the Susquehanna River, includes campus, a 182 acre nature preserve owned by the university (including a 20 acre wetland), and suburban residential communities, providing opportunities for contrasting impacts of land use on hydrology.. Monitoring of groundwater, stream water, wet and dry deposition, and snow pack has been ongoing since 2000. Web site:







The outlet of the Canisteo watershed is located approximately 11 km (7 mi) from Corning, 82 km (51 mi) from Ithaca, 132 (82 mi) from Binghamton, and 189 km (117 mi) from Syracuse, NY. Driving time and distance from University Park, PA are approximately 2 hours 40 minutes and 208 km (129 mi). Hotel facilities are available in Corning and Elmira.





Coates, D. (1981) Geomorphology of South-Central New York. New York State Geological Association, 53 rd Annual Meeting: Guidebook for Field Trips in South-Central NY. State University of New York at Binghamton, Binghamton, NY.


Curatolo, J. (2003b) EPA Watershed Initiative: Susquehanna River Headwaters in NY and PA. Upper Susquehanna Coalition proposal to the EPA.


Rickard, L. V. (1981) The Devonian System of New York State. In: Devonian Biostratigraphy of New York, W. A. Oliver and G. Klapper, Eds. International Union of Geological Sciences, Sub-commission on Devonian Stratigraphy.


Susquehanna River Basin Commission (2004)