Skip to main content

Tonawanda Creek

Navigating the Tonawanda: historic floods in Batavia

By Ryan Duffy
Photo of Creek Road during the 1942 flood.

Anyone who has lived in our area for any length of time, especially along the Tonawanda Creek, knows that the waters can be unpredictable at times. We only have to look back just a few weeks for another example. There have been many instances when its flow has overreached the banks of the creek and invaded the surrounding properties. The most extensive of these floods in Batavia occurred 80 years ago during a spring thaw.

Batavia has seen many high flood waters in its history. In 1887, there was a flood called at the time “the greatest flood Batavia has seen in years,” and in 1902 the waters damaged the Walnut Street bridge, in what was called a “record breaker,” and even the flood of 1959 caused considerable hardship. 

However, in March 1942 it would see its greatest flood in its history. That March there was still a good deal of snow on the ground of the city. In typical Western New York fashion, a large snowstorm came through on March 15, added to the white coverage. Yet, on the following day, the temperatures rose quickly and the snow changed to rain. 

The precipitation caused much of the snow drifts to begin to melt, especially in the hills near Attica and along the tributaries of the Tonawanda. The creek soon flooded as water poured in Alexander and filled the low areas that bordered the creek. One particular area that was hit hard was the streets south of Ellicott Street in Batavia. 

Water-filled streets like Jackson, Swan, Hutchins, and Otis. As the water flowed under the Walnut Street bridge, then still open to vehicular traffic, it spread to West Main Street and to the northern side streets. 

Many of the residents of those streets were forced to evacuate their homes as the waters continued to rise, and many sought out friends or relatives living in higher points in the city. 

The Red Cross stepped in to assist and helped 225 families find safe and dry lodgings. Those without another place to go were given shelter at the YMCA and school buildings that were unaffected. The only effective means of travel along many of the streets of Batavia, looking more like the canals of Venice, Italy, were boats and canoes and other forms of watercraft. 

Most homes had cellars full of water, and in some worse cases, the waters reached the first floors. The people living in the flooded areas could not return home for several days, but when they did return they were met with severe damage to their homes and properties. 

In the end, the Tonawanda Creek crested at 14 ½ feet, the highest in history. In total, nearly $500,000 in damage was caused.

The 1942 flood, among others, caused the city to strongly look towards how to better manage the waters of the Tonawanda to prevent a similar deluge. Flood control improvements were authorized in 1948 within the Flood Control Act passed by Congress. 

The improvements were completed by late 1955. Some of the improvements included: widening the creek to upwards of 100 feet, adding a retaining wall, clearing the channel, extra bank protection in suspectable areas, and improvement of existing drainage systems.

Photo of Kibbe Park during the 1942 flood.
Photo of Law Street during the 1942 flood. 
Photo of Ellicott Street during the 1942 flood.
Photo of Ellicott Street and Swan Street during the 1942 flood.
Photo of Sacred Heart Church during the 1942 flood.
Photo of the interior of Sacred Heart Church during the 1942 flood.
Photo of Main Street and Oak Street during the 1942 flood.
Photo of the Tonawanda Creek Dam during the 1942 flood.
Photo of Walnut Street during the 1942 flood.

Photo: Winter scene behind the courthouse

By Howard B. Owens

It was a white world in Batavia this morning, with snow still clinging to tree branches, piled on the ground and nearly white, overcast skies, including along the Tonawanda Creek behind the County Courthouse.

Batavia water supply all good, says city manager despite random rumors

By Joanne Beck

While it may seem like innocent fun to throw something odd or interesting online for all to see, it’s not so funny to people in charge of the public’s welfare.

A reader recently emailed The Batavian asking if the city water supply was safe, as he had read on social media about a claim that it was contaminated with some type of larvae.

Not true, City Manager Rachael Tabelski says.

“The City of Batavia Water Treatment Plant is operating normally, and our ongoing analysis indicates that there are no deficiencies in the water supply,” she said to The Batavian Tuesday.

More to the point, Tabelski said that the city takes its water supply “very seriously,” and any presence of something that could affect residents’ health would be publicized as soon as possible with a message to boil one's consumable water.

Furthermore, anyone who posts false information about a municipal operation can face repercussions, Tabelski said. Along the lines of yelling fire in a crowded theater and causing mass hysteria, a rumor about a public necessity such as water can create undue concern or panic.

Tabelski referred Batavia city water users to the annual Water Quality Report, which is available on the city’s website. Here are a few water facts, according to Tabelski and the water report:

The City of Batavia has been processing its own water at the Water Filtration Plant, 480 Lehigh Ave. plant since 1917. Much of the original structure is still standing, although modifications have been made through the years, she said. Between 1968 and 1971 renovations were completed to raise the planned capacity from three million gallons per day (M.G.D.) to six M.G.D. Six new filters were added along with another precipitator unit.

A total of three million gallons of finished drinking water, which is one day’s average consumption, can be held in the city’s two elevated storage tanks, she said. One tank is located on East Main Street Road behind the New York State Department of Transportation building and the other is beside the V.A. Hospital. These towers maintain a steady water pressure of between 60 to 80 pounds throughout the City and Town.

Where Does Your Water Come From?
Batavia uses two sources of water. Two wells located at Cedar Street provide for most of our water needs. This water is from the Tonawanda Valley Water Shed, one of the largest underground bodies of water in the state.

"Our well water is exceptionally clear with an average turbidity of less than 0.05 N.T.U. Our tests have detected no bacteria or chemical contamination in our untreated (raw) well water," Tabelski said. "However, these wells produce a hard water containing dissolved minerals and requires softening to bring it to the condition most residents find acceptable. Two supplementary wells have been developed in the well field; these await pump systems to begin operation."

Tonawanda Creek is the other source of water. While the creek has provided the treatment plant with an adequate quantity and quality of water for over 80 years, it is a surface water source and is therefore susceptible to rapid changes in quality. Levels of turbidity from runoff may quickly increase, making the creek water less cost-effective to process. Creek water is used to supplement our wells and as a backup water supply, she said.

The City processed a total of 1.1 billion gallons of water in 1999. We serve a city population of 16,310 and supply water to about 5,800 city customers. We sold a total of one billion gallons of water in 1999. A total of 873 million gallons of water in the city and 137 million gallons were sold to the town. A total of 114 million gallons of water (or 10 percent) were not metered. This was from water hydrants, water used for city maintenance, used in parks, or water lost in leaks and breaks, she said.

How Do We Treat Your Water?
The Water Report states that Batavia's well water "is very clear and requires little treatment other than softening." Raw or untreated water from an intake pipe in the Tonawanda Creek enters the water plant through mechanical screens. These screens prevent creek debris from getting into the plant. Activated carbon can be added here if there is a taste or odor problem. From the screens, creek water is mixed with well water in the Flash Mixers where water treatment chemicals are added.

Chemicals used in the water plant are ferric sulfate, calcium oxide, chlorine, polyphosphate, fluoride, and occasionally activated carbon. Ferric sulfate is added as a coagulant. This chemical neutralizes the charges on particles suspended in the water and thus allows them to clump together and drop out. Calcium oxide, also called lime, is added to raw water to soften it. Batavia is one of the few water plants in the state that lime softens its water the report states.

Adding lime causes calcium, magnesium and other compounds to begin to precipitate or prop out of the water. Soft water cleans better and uses less soap to wash effectively. This type of water softening will not add sodium to the water as can some other types of water treatment. Tabelski and Water and Wastewater staff believe -- and verify with the report -- that this extra process is one reason Batavia can produce exceptionally clear water.

Click here to read the city's Water Quality Report.

Top Photo: 2022 File Photo of a sunset looking over Tonawanda Creek, one of two sources of water for the City of Batavia. Photo by Howard Owens.

Photo: Sunset over the Tonawanda

By Howard B. Owens

This evening's sunset as viewed from South Main Street Road over the Tonawanda Creek, Batavia.

Photo by Howard Owens.

Minor flooding expected for Tonawanda Creek

By Howard B. Owens

Heavy rains are expected to hit Genesee County this afternoon and the rain along with snowmelt could cause minor flooding in the Tonawanda Creek, according to the National Weather Service

There is a flood warning in effect.

Water flows in creeks and rivers are likely to increase quickly and reach critical levels, according to the weather service.

There is also a winter weather advisory in effect from 7 p.m. to 9 a.m.  The forecast is for mixed precipitation and snow as temperatures fall tonight.  The snow accumulation could be from 2 to 4 inches along with ice accumulation. Winds could gust as high as 45 mph.  The weather service warns travel may be difficult.

UPDATE via Accuweather:

The weather will change in dramatic fashion with a rapid freeze-up anticipated across portions of Midwest and interior Northeast due to a multifaceted storm that will continue to push across the country from Thursday night into Friday, AccuWeather meteorologists warn.

Temperatures have already plummeted from springlike levels on Wednesday into the 20s across parts of the central United States as a snowstorm created slippery travel conditions.

"We are turning the clock back to January in the central United States on Thursday and Thursday night and will do the same in the Northeast on Friday," AccuWeather Chief On-Air Meteorologist Bernie Rayno said.

After surging to levels more typical of April in many areas, temperatures are forecast to plummet to 10-20 degrees or more below average for mid-February from west to east across the Plains, Midwest and Northeast into Friday.

As temperatures plunge from west to east, areas of standing water, slush and moisture will freeze unless treated with significant ice-melting compounds. On top of that, many crews may not be able to successfully pre-treat roads as rain will quickly wash away chemicals used to melt snow and ice.


Photos: Bald eagle flying over the Tonawanda Creek

By Howard B. Owens

Amanda Coggiola submitted these photos of a bald eagle at the Tonawanda Creek off South Main Street Road, Batavia.

She said, "My kids and I saw this eagle at our house this morning. They asked if I could send the pictures to you because we know sometimes you post the pics on your website. Merry Christmas: Amanda, Ben, Lilly, and Jake Coggiola"

Photo: Geese on the Tonawanda

By Howard B. Owens

Chris Crocker submitted this photo taken on South Main Street in Batavia of geese lounging on the Tonawanda Creek.

Video: Water rescue of two people whose canoe overturned on the Tonawanda Creek

By Howard B. Owens
Video Sponsor .pane-node-body img {background: none !important; border: 0 !important; margin: 0 !important; padding: unset !important; padding-left: 1px !important }

Two people were rescued today in the Tonawanda Creek after their canoe overturned and became jammed against a log, which they managed to grab onto until help arrived.

East Pembroke Fire, Town of Batavia Fire, and Gary Patnode, head of the county's rope rescue team, responded.

Volunteer firefighters were able to get ropes to John R. Young, 24, of Basom, and Kaleigh Kasteli, 20, of Beaver Falls, Pa., along with life vests -- which they put over their own life vests -- and pull them safely to shore.

Both Young and Kasteli were examined by medics with Mercy EMS and released from care at the scene.

State Police also assisted at the scene.

(Initial Post

People stranded after canoe flips in Tonawanda Creek

By Howard B. Owens

Two people are reportedly stuck on a tree trunk-- uninjured -- after their canoe flipped while they were paddling through the Tonawanda Creek in the area of 3507 S. Main Street Road, Batavia.

East Pembroke fire and Town of Batavia fire dispatched.

UPDATE 4:37 p.m.: The caller tells dispatchers the people stranded don't want to swim to shore because of the current in the creek.

UPDATE(S)(By Billie) 4:42 p.m.: A safety rope will be put in place downstream, in case initial efforts fail to bring them in. The caller said the canoers can be accsssed through their back yard. A firefighter says those stranded are easily accessible even without a rope. Another says there's an island in the middle of the creek but the water is fairly swift and high.

UPDATE 4:43 p.m.: A firefighter says he's near them, and they are 20 feet away.

UPDATE 4:44 p.m.: The general area of where they are is Route 5 and Kelsey Road.

UPDATE 4:51 p.m.: Some of the rescuers are going up the road to find a better location to place a secondary safety line across the waterway, possibly behind a trailer park.

UPDATE 4:59 p.m.: A rescuer on the north bank of the creek says "I don't think we're going to be able to get a line all the way over." There is some confusion, "possibly a language barrier," regarding others who may have also been in the water with the stranded canoers. The rescuers want to be sure there is not another party stranded somewhere. There are four or five kayaks that were also in the water with the canoe and those people are at the bridge at Route 5 and Wortendyke and are heading to their vehicles. They also reported speaking with the two stranded canoers and said they, too, experienced a language barrier, which they attribute to them being stuck in the water.

UPDATE 5:10 p.m.: Mercy medics are called to evaluate the folks who were stuck in the water. They are safely out. The location on South Main Street is between Wortendyke Road and Lovers Lane Road.

UPDATE 5:22 p.m.: All Town of Batavia units are told they can go back in service. East Pembroke command says they will be packing up and leaving the scene in a couple minutes.

UPDATE 5:35 p.m.: The two stranded canoers were evaluated by Mercy medics and released.

UPDATE: Click here for follow up information and a video of the rescue.

Property owner on Walnut Street doesn't want public using his land to access Tonawanda Creek

By Howard B. Owens

Erik Saluste is looking for some help from the city in keeping people off his property at 5 Walnut St., Batavia.

He said trespassers are a huge and consistent problem. 

His property backs up to the Tonawanda Creek and he doesn't want people on his land when they want to sightsee, fish, or kayak on the creek.

"People think that all the houses on Walnut Street, Route 98, that back against the creek allow public access," told the City Council last night during public comments. "There is no public access. My property line extends to where the creek ends. I’ve posted no trespassing signs on my property."

He said he's had to call police about trespassers four times already this year.

He said he brought the issue to the City Council four years ago and nothing happened. He said he applied for a building permit to install a fence on his property line and it was denied.

He took that as the city asserting easement rights but he said the city has no easement rights. The state has easement rights 50 feet in from the creek and that he was told he could build structures within the easement, but if the state needed the structures removed for flood control measures he would have to remove the structures.

Interim City Manager Matt Worth said he will need to research it but he believes the state might be concerned about a fence catching tree limbs and other debris that could contribute to a flooding issue.

Saluste thinks a fence from the footbridge to 1 Walnut might help alleviate the problem and said he would be willing to help pay for it. He said the problem is a huge privacy and liability issue for him.

"You do have to realize that until I have satisfaction in this area I’m going to continue to call Batavia Police Department every time I have somebody (trespassing)," Saluste said. "I’m not going to confront them anymore because they’ve almost become physical on certain occasions and I don’t want that to happen."

The council instructed Worth to look into the issue further.

UPDATE: Felipe Oltramari, county planning director, brought this to our attention:

Per DEC’s website ( “If a waterway is navigable in fact, the right to public navigation authorizes a boater to get out of the boat to pull it around obstacles or to get around obstacles by portaging over private property, so long as the portage is by the most direct and least intrusive safe route possible.”

This property is right at the dam so a kayaker or canoer could come ashore legally on Mr. Saluste’s land for the purposes of getting around the dam while navigating the creek.  

PHOTO: Screen grab from county's GIS map, shows, from the top, 1 Walnut, 3 Walnut, and 5 Walnut.

The Tonawanda Creek is 8.64 feet and rising

By Howard B. Owens

The National Weather Service has warned of possible flooding as the Tonawanda Creek through Batavia nears the 9-foot level.

Currently, the water level, as measured at the bend behind the County Courthouse, is 8.64 feet.

It's been on a steep climb since 7 a.m.

It's expected to crest at 9.1 feet.

The minor flood stage is 9 feet.

Kibbe Park is expected to flood, and possibly Walnut Street and Law Street.  

There is flooding in Alexander and the Town of Batavia along the creek.

There is a flood warning in effect until 1 p.m.

Tonawanda Creek crested at one of highest levels in past decade

By Howard B. Owens

The Tonawanda Creek crested at 11.27 feet, well into the moderate flood level, at about 10 p.m. and has since dropped to under nine feet.

Law Street is being reopened with the water's receding.

Higher crests over the previous 10 years are 11.94 feet in December 2013 and 11.72 feet in December 2008. The highest crest on record was 14.5 feet, March 1, 1942.

Below are two flood photos, from North Pembroke Road, submitted by Michael Quaranto.

Photo: Fishing the Tonawanda

By Howard B. Owens

Craig Gillard sent in this picture of a couple of men fishing the Tonawanda Creek in Batavia this morning.

Lost and Found: Sheriff's Office trying to locate owner of rowboat found on Tonawanda Creek

By Howard B. Owens

The Sheriff's Office would like to unite a rowboat with its owner after the small craft was found on the Tonawanda Creek in the area of Kiwanis Park and Wortendyke Road.

There's no indication that anybody fell out of it and there's been no missing person report, said Chief Deputy Gordon Dibble, so at this point, Dibble thinks it likely became unmoored from its dock somehow.

The Sheriff's Office is asking that if you're missing a boat and think it might be yours, call Deputy Kevin McCarthy (585) 345-3000, ext. 3237.

Be prepared to provide a detailed description.

Authentically Local