The Mohawk

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The Mohawk

Mohawk Valley West from RexfordThe Erie Canal, the waterway west, the Mohawk River it has many labels and means something different to everyone we talk to.  We, each and all are guilty of taking it for granted from time to time.  We assume that it has been always there, that it is always the same as it flows though our backyards, and it will always be there as a source of water, a venue for recreation, a source of power, an inspiration for our dreams, and even a means of transportation!

But it has only been there since the last glacier retreated.  Native peoples treated it reverently as a part of “Mother Earth” and used it for transportation, source of water for washing and their crops of corn and squash.  The Europeans came and used it even more extensively and increasingly more abusive as cooling water and even as a sewer.  Over the centuries wetlands were drained and filled to make ways for homes and budding industries many of which were built right on the river to take advantage of waterpower, transportation, and as a raw material.

MohawkWatershed

– map by NYSDEC

The River became so abused that in the 1930s an effort was made by some of the larger municipalities to screen and settle out more obvious solid materials that were contributing to the degradation of our waterways.    Several very dry years in the 1960s prompted many states and the federal government to take more aggressive action to clean up our waterway.  As more was learned and as conditions started to improve there was an environmental awakening that called for more improvement so that some of the less obvious contaminants became a concern.

A growing segment of the population began to recognize the importance of environmental quality and concurrently the esthetics of the water course.

Several factors including slow economic development and the fact that the Mohawk River Basin lies totally within the State of New York we have been slower than other watershed communities to recognize our resource and the need for stewardship.  Grass roots efforts jelled early this century and academic, political, economic and social forces come together for several annual Mighty Water Conferences.  Recently as winter snows melt and spring buds swell each year, stakeholders, researchers and concerned citizens participate in an annual Mohawk Watershed Symposium organized by and hosted by Union Collage.  One of the products of this effort is the Mohawk River Basin Action Agenda.  This action plan was adopted in 2012 with five broad goals:

Fishing near Ferry Drive, Clifton Park - Photo by Myla Kramer

Fishing near Ferry Drive, Clifton Park – Photo by Myla Kramer

  • Conserve and protect fish, wildlife and their habitats
  • Protect and improve water quality
  • Promote Flood Hazard Risk Reduction and Enhanced Flood Resiliency
  • Revitalize Mohawk River Basin communities (enter the Mohawk Towpath Byway and others!) and
  • Maintain working landscapes (note how this overlaps the Byway’s Scenic Conservation Action Plan!).

As the Byway participated in the Symposium this year we learned that the Mohawk River Basin Action Agenda is being updated to include another ambitious goal: Toward a Fishable, Swimmable Mohawk River.  This has become the number one goal and welcomes the communities, residents, and our visitors to appreciate the river and more broadly use it for recreational purposes.

Would you like more information on the history, personalities, and New York State involvement?  This detail is available on line, or contact Katherine Czajkowski katherine.czajkowski @ dec.ny.gov [edit out the spaces] or call 518-357-2383.

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