Cayuga Creek (New York)

River Basin Characteristics

Landuse distribution in the Cayuga Creek watershed

The Cayuga Creek watershed is located in Niagara County, New York.  It is one of the tributaries to the upper Niagara River, designated as an Area of Concern. It is approximately 10.5 miles long and has a drainage basin area of approximately 25.9 square miles. The watershed includes Bergholtz Creek, Black Creek, and part of Sawyer Creek. The drainage basin is quite flat with elevations ranging from 625 feet at the headwaters to 560 feet at the Niagara River confluence. The creek is a slightly meandering that converges with the Little Niagara River approximately 10.5 miles from its source. The vegetation cover type ranges from emergent to forested. Riverline and shoreline vegetated shallows sporadically dominate along Cayuga Creek and its tributaries as emergent and aquatic bed communities occupying shoals, side channels and backwater areas.

The Cayuga Creek watershed has experienced the loss of wetlands due to development, drainage and channel alterations. Several tributaries have been realigned in order to facilitate drainage from agricultural fields. The watershed is partially urbanized and the lower watershed has a history of environmental abuse, particularly related to water quality and contaminated sediment resulting from industrial discharges and seepage from the Love Canal area. In the northern part, land uses include residential and agricultural development and open lands. At the Niagara Falls metropolitan area, the land use becomes progressively occupied by residential and commercial development with the increase of improved infrastructure. Much of the land use in the town of Niagara and the City of Niagara Falls is suburban residential and commercial development. Industrial areas are found mainly in the city of Niagara Falls.

Soil type distribution in the Cayuga Creek watershed

Sediment erosion from agricultural land and construction sites is a high-priority, county-wide issue. The major factors that contribute to this issue are: the constriction and concentration of flow, channelization, channel modification, concentrated point source discharges, loss of riparian zone and vegetation cover, altered hydrologic characteristics, and fluctuations in water levels associated with management of the Niagara River. The increase of population in the urban and suburban areas will influence potential environmental issues such as point source and non-point source water contamination, and increased drainage impacts.

 Modeling Approach

The Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model is a physically based model that was developed by the United States Department of Agriculture-Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS) and is supported by the U.S. EPA. It is designed to model and predict impacts to hydrology, sediment, and water quality as a result of management practices in a watershed. It is used to assess water quality management programs because of its ability to model continuous land use processes in a large watershed by dividing the watershed into subbasins allowing for a detailed level of spatial variability. Furthermore, the model is designed to operate on a daily time step for long periods, which is effective when assessing land management practices

Water sampling in the Cayuga Creek

The SWAT model was calibrated using field data collected in 2008 and validated using data collected in 2007. Water quality sampling was done at two sites (upstream and downstream sites) in the watershed. Manual samples were collected for total suspended solids (TSS) during dry weather periods and through storm events in the summer and fall of 2007 and 2008. Spot measurements of discharge also were done at the two sites. Continuous measurement (15 minute time steps) of dissolved oxygen, turbidity, conductivity, pH, and temperature was done at the two sample sites using Hydrolab Datasonde 4a‟s, although the focus in this study was on turbidity data.

Land use within the watershed was classified and mapped using air photos, ArcGIS9.2, and the Anderson Level II system for conditions in 2005 and 1958. For modeling purposes, the watershed was divided into 35 subbasins using the BASINS (Better Assessment Science Integrating point and Nonpoint Sources) watershed delineation tool.

 Use and Applications

SWAT model output for the Cayuga Creek watershed

The SWAT model potentially is useful at the watershed scale to identify the magnitude of Best Management Practice (BMP) impact at a planning level. It certainly is possible to pick up general level trends on a gross. However, the land use change represented spatially wide-spread impacts throughout the watershed and small-scale BMP implementation might not be “seen” by the model at the watershed scale. Instrumentation of a couple of subbasins to provide more detailed information on system response would lead to improved understanding of parameter sensitivity and ultimately result in more certain model calibration and application. This project resulted in the development of a BASINS SWAT model that could be used to evaluate the spatial components of soil erosion and sediment yield within the watershed undercurrent (baseline) and different BMPs. It also utilized a watershed-based approach (including modeling tools) to investigate changes in land use and possible shifts in hydrologic and sediment erosion characteristics related to the changing land use.

 Project Partners

For More Information:


Mike Voorhees
USACE, Buffalo District
1776 Niagara Street
Buffalo, NY 14207
Phone: (716) 879-4488