Cayuga Lake NAM-17

Riparian Nation(s) USA
Surface Area 172 km2 Mean Depth 54.5 m Volume 9.4 km3
Shoreline 153.4 km Catchment Area 2033 km2 Residence Time 18.2 yr
Frozen Period Mixing Type Monomictic Morphogenesis/Dam Glacial
Related Info/Site Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge (1938)


Cayuga Lake is one of a group of long and narrow lakes located in western New York State known as the Finger Lakes. The basins of these north-south oriented lakes were formed by the advance of ice masses during the Ice Ages, and further sculpted by glacial meltwater during the interglacial and postglacial periods. The lake has a maximum depth of 132 m, with the deepest point extending below sea level. Cayuga is the longest of the Finger Lakes, with a length of 61.4 km, yet the average width is a mere 2.8 km. The lake is the lowest in elevation among the Finger Lakes, and this has resulted in the formation of extensive marshes around its northern end.

Although the Finger Lakes region is now well-known for its many vineyards and orchards, it had been densely forested up until the early 1800's when large areas were cleared for agriculture by white settlers. The forests are now in the process of expanding as marginal farmland is abandoned and gradually invaded by trees. In the drainage basin, approximately half the land area is in active agriculture, one-third is forested, and 2% is residential.

The water level of the lake is regulated by Mud Lock at the north end. The lake has been connected to Lake Ontario by the Erie Barge Canal system since 1828. The lake is also connected by the Seneca River to Seneca Lake. Cayuga Lake is drawn down in mid-December to minimize ice damage and for maximizing storage during the period of heavy spring runoff. The lake is a major recreational resource for the region, and its waters are also used for both drinking and waste disposal. Industrial development is low and does not constitute a substantial pollution hazard. The fish population is managed to maximize salmonid production. Significant sport-fishing also exist for smelt, smallmouth bass, and other species (2).

Photo of Cayuga Lake
Photo: C. Rossano