Cattaraugus Creek
The mouth of Cattaraugus Creek on Lake Erie near Sunset Bay, New York.
Cattaraugus Creek is located in New York
Cattaraugus Creek
Location of the mouth of Cattaraugus Creek in New York State.
Cattaraugus Creek is located in the United States
Cattaraugus Creek
Cattaraugus Creek (the United States)
CountryUnited States
StateNew York
Physical characteristics
SourceJava Lake
 • locationJava, Wyoming County
 • coordinates42°37′43″N 78°20′24″W / 42.62861°N 78.34000°W / 42.62861; -78.34000[1]
MouthLake Erie
 • location
Sunset Bay, Erie County
 • coordinates
42°34′14″N 79°08′14″W / 42.57056°N 79.13722°W / 42.57056; -79.13722[1]
Length68 mi (109 km)[2]
Basin size559 sq mi (1,450 km2)[2]

Cattaraugus Creek is a stream, approximately 68 miles (109 km) long, in western New York in the United States.[1][2][3][4] The creek drains a wooded rural portion of western New York southwest of Buffalo into Lake Erie.[2][3][4] In its lower course it flows primarily through the Cattaraugus Reservation of the Seneca tribe.[2][3][4] William Beauchamp identifies the name Cattaraugus as deriving from the Seneca word Gah-ta-ra-ke-ras, meaning "stinking shore" or "foul-smelling river bank."[5] This in turn is likely a loanword from an extinct Attiwandiron, Erie, Wenro, or Wendat (Huron) language, combining the verb root -i'tar-, referring to clay or mud,[6] and -akera(n)-, describing a bad or strong odor:[7] hence, tke'tarakeras, place of strong-smelling mud or clay. (The Seneca language does not have a distinct R sound; the Seneca language equivalent, Canawaugus, was originally used for a site further east.[8]) This name is a result of the natural gas that oozes from the river mud.


The creek rises in Java Lake in Wyoming County. In the village of Arcade it is joined by Clear Creek. It flows westward out of Wyoming County to the hamlet of Yorkshire, where the creek becomes the boundary between Erie County to the north and Cattaraugus County to the south.[2] Near Springville, the creek is impounded by the Scoby Dam. From Springville to Gowanda, Cattaraugus Creek passes through the Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area.[2] This conservation zone is a favorite recreation area for fishing and rafting. The South Branch of Cattaraugus Creek, also known as Skinner Hollow, originates in East Otto and flows southwest into the village of Cattaraugus before veering northwest to Cattaraugus Creek along the Persia-Otto town line, joining the main creek just east of Gowanda, a village that straddles the main stem of the creek and is thereby in two counties.[2] Along its lower course Cattaraugus Creek flows past the hamlet of Versailles, on the south bank of the creek in the Cattaraugus Reservation.[2] For its final miles, the creek forms the border between Erie County and Chautauqua County, then flows into Lake Erie by Sunset Bay in the town of Hanover in Chautauqua County.[2]


Each year around October to November, thousands of anglers descend on the lower course of Cattaraugus Creek to take advantage of the annual steelhead trout runs.[9][10][11]

Currently, the extent of steelhead migration up Cattaraugus Creek is limited by the Scoby Dam near Springville. However, a proposal to lower the currently 38-foot (12 m) dam by about 30 feet (9.1 m) was put forth by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2014. If approved, the dam's lowering and the installation of a fish ladder would allow steelhead to move into an additional 44 miles (71 km) of Cattaraugus Creek and its tributaries. The $6.6 million (USD) project would allow anglers to seek steelhead at an additional 34 miles (55 km) of public stream access, a large increase over the current four miles (6.4 km) of the stream that is currently publicly accessible for fishing below the dam.[12]

The dam's removal could also allow Cattaraugus Creek's steelhead populations to become more self-sustaining as they gain access to suitable spawning habitats available above the dam. Currently, the steelhead fishery is maintained only through annual stocking of fish.[12]

Critics of the project have raised concerns about impacts on resident brown and rainbow trout populations above the dam, and the possibility of introducing invasive species such as the sea lamprey into stretches of the creek currently free of such organisms. The USACE proposal includes barriers that are intended to restrict the movement of sea lamprey beyond the dam.[12]


The creek is prone to rapid flooding, and two significant floods hit the creek in 2009[13][14] and 2014.[15][16][17]

Environmental issues

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation describes Cattaraugus Creek as "one of the healthiest watersheds in the area." Potential threats to the creek's ecosystem include deforestation of the surrounding area, overdevelopment of the Zoar Valley, and invasive species.[18]

Nuclear waste

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Nuclear waste has contaminated Cattaraugus Creek and other areas around West Valley, New York.[19][20] Although almost all of the high-level nuclear waste has been removed, according to the Department of Energy (DOE),[19] nuclear and hazardous wastes are still buried in unlined trenches on two sites at a former privately operated nuclear fuels reprocessing facility alongside Cattaraugus Creek north of the village of West Valley in Cattaraugus County.[19][20] The DOE's Demonstration Project[20] at the site transferred high-level nuclear waste into glass canisters.[19] Reprocessing of spent fuel rods from military and civilian nuclear power plants between 1966 and 1972 resulted in burial of low-level radioactive waste (LLNW) on 22 acres (89,000 m2) and burial of high-level radioactive waste on another 7 acres (28,000 m2) there.

The facility that created the nuclear waste there closed in 1972, and was begun in 1961 by Nuclear Fuel Services (NFS), a subsidiary of W.R. Grace & Co. (the focus of the book and film A Civil Action) and American Machine & Foundry, on 3,345 acres (13.54 km2) of land leased from the State of New York. The Atomic Energy Commission reported in 1966 that 5 million US gallons (19,000 m3) of liquid radioactive wastes were discharged into on-site streams and Cattaraugus Creek, into which on-site streams flow. These activities were authorized by the State of New York, title owner of the entire site through its agency, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA,) and by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), successor to the Atomic Energy Commission. NYSERDA holds a license from the NRC, which has ultimate jurisdiction over high-level nuclear wastes.

Getty Oil took over the site in the 1970s and continued receiving nuclear fuel rods and dumping nuclear waste there until 1976 when, after numerous releases to the ground and atmosphere, public concern over contamination led the DEC to withdraw its permit for discharges into Buttermilk Creek.[19][20] This, together with more stringent federal regulations and greater economic competition for nuclear waste disposal led NFS to shut the plant down,[19][20] leaving New York State with the property.[19][20] Although cleanup of some high-level nuclear wastes was begun in the 1990s and continues at what is now known as the West Valley Demonstration Project,[19][20] regarding LLNW, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has stated, "There is no intent to recover the wastes once they are buried."[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Cattaraugus Creek". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey, United States Department of the Interior. Retrieved March 22, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Gravel mining; Summary of permits for mining activities in the Cattaraugus Creek watershed, Cattaraugus Creek watershed resource guide and proposed watershed planning strategy, 2006, Boyer, B., Carpenter, B., Renschler, C., & Kellam, R.V., Funded by: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Great Lakes National Program Office, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Buffalo District, Retrieved 21 June 2014.
  3. ^ a b c Kirby, C.D. (1976). The Early History of Gowanda and The Beautiful Land of the Cattaraugus. Gowanda, NY: Niagara Frontier Publishing Company, Inc./Gowanda Area Bi-Centennial Committee, Inc.
  4. ^ a b c Historical sketch of the Village of Gowanda, N.Y. in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of its incorporation, August 8, 1898. Buffalo, NY: The Matthews-Northrup Company, Leonard, I.R., Reprinted 1998, Salem, MA: Higginson Book Company.
  5. ^ Beauchamp, William Martin (1907). Aboriginal Place Names of New York (New York State Museum Bulletin, Volume 108). New York State Education Department. p. 31. ISBN 9781404751552. Retrieved 27 February 2015.
  6. ^ Kanatawakhon, David. Karoron Ne Owennashonha (Mohawk Language Thematic Dictionary. London, ON: University of Western Ontario Press, 2001.
  7. ^ Kanatawakhon, David. Akwekon Tetewakhanyon (Let's Put It All Together): Mohawk Language Course Dictionary. London, ON: University of Western Ontarion Press, 2003.
  8. ^ Czamota, Lorna (2014). Native American & Pioneer Sites of Upstate New York. The History Press. p. 140. ISBN 9781626192904.
  9. ^ "Out: Gone fishing! Anglers love Cattaraugus County's scenic waterways". Ellicottville Times. 2014. Retrieved 5 July 2014.
  10. ^ "Fishing reports: Western NY fishing report". Lake Ontario Outdoors. 6 April 2012. Retrieved 5 July 2014.
  11. ^ Elliott, W. (11 April 2012). "Fishing line". Buffalo News/Berkshire Hathaway (Buffalo, New York). ((cite web)): Missing or empty |url= (help)
  12. ^ a b c T.J. Pignataro (July 27, 2014). "Plan calls for lowering Scoby Dam to give fish more stream in which to thrive". The Buffalo News ( Retrieved March 7, 2015.
  13. ^ Gowanda to receive $700K in FEMA funding, The Post-Journal, Jamestown, NY, 31 January 2014, Retrieved 3 February 2014.
  14. ^ Over $700K going to Gowanda, The Observer, Dunkirk, NY, 31 January 2014, Retrieved 10 February 2014.
  15. ^ Gowanda declares state of emergency due to flooding,, Buffalo, NY: WGRZ, 14 May 2014, Retrieved 14 May 2014.
  16. ^ Heavy rains flood Gowanda, Silver Creek, N. Collins, The Buffalo News, Buffalo, NY: Berkshire Hathaway, 14 May 2014, Retrieved 14 May 2014.
  17. ^ Streets in Gowanda turn to rivers carrying mud,, Buffalo, NY: WIVB, 13 May 2014, Lenihan, E., Retrieved 14 May 2014.
  18. ^ Pignataro, T.J. (April 30, 2017). Cattaraugus Creek, an international draw, needs TLC to head off looming problems. The Buffalo News. Retrieved May 1, 2017.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h West Valley Demonstration Project, United States Department of Energy, West Valley, NY: United States Department of Energy, 2014, Retrieved 22 June 2014.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g West Valley Demonstration Project site treatment plan fiscal year 2010 update, West Valley Demonstration Project, West Valley, NY: West Valley Environmental Services, LLC, 2010, Schalberg, T.E., Retrieved 22 June 2014.