Erie Canal celebrates bicentennial of work for commerce, hydropower production

July 4, 2017, is the 200th anniversary from the digging of the first shovelful of dirt to construct the Erie Canal, which took place in Rome, N.Y.

The original Erie Canal was 4 feet deep, 40 feet wide and 363 miles long, running from Albany to Buffalo in New York and linking the Hudson River to the Great Lakes. The canal included 18 aqueducts to carry the water over ravines and rivers, as well as 83 locks. The canal rose a total of 568 feet from the Hudson River to Lake Erie and was completed in 1825.

It was built to facilitate transportation of produce to market, and its construction prompted the founding of the first engineering school in the U.S., Rensselear Polytechnic Institute.

The canal was enlarged between 1836 and 1862 to keep pace with the growing demands of traffic. It was 70 feet wide and 7 feet deep and could handle boats carrying 240 tons. The number of locks was reduced to 72. A second enlargement was completed in 1918 with the construction of the “Barge Canal,” which is 12 to 14 feet deep and 120 to 200 feet wide. The 338-mile-long structure runs from Waterford to Tonawanda and features 36 locks that could handle barges carrying up to 3,000 tons.

A total of 27 hydroelectric power facilities are based along the Erie Canal, including three owned and operated by the New York Power Authority. These are 12-MW Crescent, 12-MW Vischer Ferry and 9-MW Gregory B. Jarvis.

It is reported that about 65,000 homes and business use electricity generated by hydropower plants that use the water of the canal.

The canal has been named a national historic landmark. Dozens of celebrations and events are planned across New York State to commemorate this anniversary.

For more canals, tunnels and penstocks news, click here.

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Elizabeth Ingram is content director for the Hydro Review website and HYDROVISION International. She has more than 17 years of experience with the hydroelectric power industry. Follow her on Twitter @ElizabethIngra4 .

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