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Niagara River/Lake Erie Watershed

A brief overview of this watershed and its water quality is presented below. For more detailed information about the Niagara River/Lake Erie Watershed, published NYSDEC reports are also available. General information about watersheds is available at the "We All Live in a Watershed" webpage.

Facts about this Watershed

Map of NYS identifying the Niagara River/Lake Erie Watershed
Click to view a detailed watershed map

The Niagara River/Lake Erie Watershed is located in western New York; in fact Lake Erie and its outlet, the Niagara River, represent the western boundary of the state. At its mouth the Niagara River drains an area encompassing more than 265,000 square miles in the north central United States and south central Canada. The drainage area beyond New York includes four of the five Great Lakes as well as some of the largest and most urban/industrial cities in North America.

Location: Western New York State

  • All of Erie County,
  • Much of Niagara, Genesee and Wyoming Counties, and
  • Portions of northern Cattaraugus and Chautauqua Counties.

Size: 2,280 square miles of land area within New York State.

Rivers and Streams: 4,086 miles of freshwater rivers and streams. Major tributary watersheds to the Niagara River and Lake Erie include:

  • Tonawanda Creek (1,538 river miles)
  • Cattaraugus Creek (1,435 miles)
  • Buffalo River (1,006 miles)

Lakes, Ponds and Reservoirs: 24 significant freshwater lakes, ponds, and reservoirs (1,098 acres), including:

  • Attica Reservoir (173 acres)
  • Lime Lake (160 acres)

Great Lakes Shoreline: 92 miles of Great Lakes (Lake Erie) shoreline.

How is the Water?

Water Quality in The Niagara River/Lake Erie Watershed

In the Niagara River/Lake Erie Watershed, about 58% of river/stream miles, 44% of lake, pond and reservoir acres, and 100% of Great Lakes shoreline have been assessed (see Assessment Report).

Water quality Pie Chart. Rivers: 33% good, 8% Satisfactory, 17% Poor, 42% unassessed. Lakes: 11% good, 28% satisfactory, 6% poor, 42% unassessed. Shores:100% poor
Good water quality: Fully supports designated activities and uses
Satisfactory: Fully supports designated activities, but with minor impacts
Poor (Impaired): does not support designated activities and uses
Unassessed: Insufficient data available

Water quality issues in the Niagara River/Lake Erie Watershed are for the most part associated with past and current industrial activities and remedial actions in the Great Lakes and urban centers in the watershed. These remedial actions focus on the Niagara and Buffalo Rivers in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls urban area. Urban stormwater runoff and combined sewer overflows in the Buffalo area also impact water quality. The upland areas of the basin includes significant agricultural areas and associated activities also impact water quality.

Major water quality concerns in the watershed are:

  • Legacy Industrial Discharges in Buffalo-Niagara Falls area currently being remediated
  • Urban Stormwater and Combined Sewer Overflows in urban areas
  • Agricultural and Other Nonpoint Sources of nutrients and various other pollutants
  • Great Lakes Management Plans to restore uses in Lake Erie

About Water Quality in New York State

Water chemistry sampling in a NYS stream
Water Chemistry Sampling

Each waterbody in NYS has been assigned a classification, which reflects the designated "best uses" of the waterbody. These best uses typically include the ability to support fish and aquatic wildlife, recreational uses (fishing, boating) and, for some waters, public bathing, drinking water use or shellfishing. Water quality is considered to be good if the waters support their best uses. NYSDEC routinely monitors and assesses water quality throughout the state and publishes detailed reports of these findings. For more information on these monitoring and assessment programs, see Water Quality Monitoring, Assessment and Planning.

What You Can Do!

Each of us lives in a watershed. On our Watershed Stewardship page are some tips on actions that you and your friends can take to help your watershed.

Biological kick sampling in a NYS stream
Biological Kick Sampling

Published Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Reports

Watershed Management Plans

More about Niagara River/Lake Erie Watershed: