New York City began drawing water from the Croton River watershed
The New York State Legislature passed an act allowing New York City to acquire lands and build dams, reservoirs, and aqueducts in the Catskills
Ashokan Reservoir constructed, 2,000 residents displaced
Communities of Shokan, Broadhead Bridge, Brown’s Station, Oliver Bridge, West Hurley, Glenford, Olive and Ashton were eliminated.
Schoharie Reservoir constructed, 350 residents displaced
Community of Gilboa and neighboring valley lands flooded.
Rondout Reservoir constructed
Communities of Eureka, Montela, and Lackawack were eliminated.
Communities of Neversink and Bittersweet were eliminated.
Neversink Reservoir constructed
Construction was virtually shut down during World War II, but resumed in 1946.
1,500 people were forced to vacate their homes, farms, and businesses in. the Rondout and Neversink Valleys
Pepacton Reservoir constructed
974 people displaced.
Communities of Arena, Pepacton, Shavertown and Union Grove were eliminated.
New York City acquired 13,000 acres, including cemeteries from which 2,371 bodies were removed to be re-interred elsewhere.
Cannonsville Reservoir constructed, 941 people displaced.
Communities of Beerston, Cannonsville, Rock Rift, Rock Royal and Granton were eliminated.
The Federal Clean Water Act calls for setting water quality standards and providing technical tools and financial assistance to address the causes of poor water quality.
Federal Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments are signed into law.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Surface Water Treatment Rule requires filtration of all surface water supplies to protect against microbial contamination of drinking water. This requirement can be waived if a water system’s treatment processes and natural conditions provide safe water and if the watershed is actively protected to ensure water safety in the future.
New York City Department of Environmental Protection releases draft Watershed Protection Plan in September 1990.
Coalition of Watershed Towns forms to fight against NYC watershed regulations in March 1991.
Governor Pataki assigns his Counsel to mediate settlement negotiations in April 1995. A conceptual agreement is reached in November 1995, and work begins on a formal draft of the Memorandum of Agreement.
The Memorandum of Agreement is formally executed (January 21, 1997).
Signatories include the United States Environmental Protection Agency, New York State, New York City, watershed towns, villages, and counties, and environmental groups. New York City agrees to provide over $270 million in funding for programs geared toward infrastructure, education, and economic development programs to protect water quality and improve quality of life in the Watershed. A new not-for-profit corporation, the Catskill Watershed Corporation, is formed to manage many of the programs in the Catskill/Delaware Watershed.
The Environmental Protection Agency issues a Five Year Filtration Avoidance Determination (FAD), exempting New York City from federal requirements to filter the Catskill/Delaware system.
A comprehensive review of the City’s implementation of its Long-Term
Watershed Protection Program, including implementation and enforcement of the Watershed Rules and Regulations, is completed in July 2006.
The EPA grants a Ten Year Filtration Avoidance Determination (FAD) exempting New York City from federal requirements to filter the Catskill/Delaware system.
The 2007 FAD has just undergone a five-year review. Revisions have been drafted and comments from involved parties are being considered by the New York State Department of Health, which now has the lead agency status (instead of the EPA.)
History of the NYC Water Supply
The long and tumultuous story of the development of New York City’s water supply West of the Hudson River began when the New York State Legislature passed Chapter 724 of the Laws of 1905, an act allowing the city to acquire lands and build dams, reservoirs and aqueducts in the Catskills.
The city had already claimed the Croton River watershed in Putnam and Westchester Counties East of the Hudson, drawing its water from reservoirs and lakes in that region since 1842. The city’s growing population sent it to the Catskills for more water, first from the Esopus Creek, which was impounded to create the Ashokan Reservoir in Ulster County.
The Ashokan was constructed under the auspices of the New York City Board of Water Supply (BWS) between 1907 and 1915. Its Olive Bridge Dam and various weirs and dikes backed up Esopus waters for 12 miles, necessitating the removal of homes, farms, businesses, churches, schools and other structures throughout the valley. Two-thousand residents were displaced as four hamlets were flooded and eight others were relocated.
The BWS next turned to the Schoharie Creek, building a dam at Gilboa to create the Schoharie Reservoir. This reservoir, built between 1919 and 1927, forced the removal of 350 residents of the community of Gilboa and neighboring valley lands.
Water from the Schoharie is sent down the Shandaken Tunnel, an 18-mile-long conduit which leads to the Esopus Creek and then runs eastward into the Ashokan Reservoir.
The blended waters reach the city’s distribution system through the 92-mile-long Catskill Aqueduct which consists of deep-rock tunnels, steel pipe siphons and buried conduits snaking beneath mountains, valleys and rivers. The aqueduct burrows 1,114 feet beneath the Hudson River between Storm King and Breakneck Mountains near Cornwall.
No sooner had the Schoharie Reservoir been completed than the BWS began development of the Delaware River and its tributaries. Receiving state approval in 1928, the city’s plans to build five more reservoirs were held up by challenges from New Jersey and Pennsylvania which shared the interstate waters of the Delaware. The dispute went all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court, which in 1931 allowed New York City to take up to 440 million gallons of water a day from the river system. That required the city to scale back its plans to just three reservoirs – one on the Rondout Creek (actually a tributary of the Hudson River); another on the Neversink River; and a third on the East Branch of the Delaware.
The Rondout Reservoir straddling the Ulster and Sullivan County line was built between 1937 and 1954 (it was first placed in service in 1951). The Neversink Reservoir a few miles distant in Sullivan County was constructed between 1941 and 1953 (in service in 1950). Both projects were virtually shut down during World War II, but resumed in 1946.
The communities of Eureka, Montela and Lackawack were eliminated to make way for the Rondout; the hamlets of Neversink and Bittersweet were lost to the Neversink Reservoir. More than 1,500 people were forced to vacate their homes, farms and businesses in both valleys.
The Pepacton Reservoir on the East Branch in Delaware County was built between 1947 and 1954. The 2,400-foot-long dam at Downsville impounds the largest of the city’s reservoirs. Eighteen miles long, it covers nine square miles, has a 55-mile shoreline and a capacity of 140 billion gallons.
The Pepacton flooded four communities — Arena, Pepacton, Shavertown and Union Grove — displacing 974 people. The city acquired more than 13,000 acres, including cemeteries from which 2,371 bodies were removed to be re-interred elsewhere.
Faced with growing water demand, the city then proposed yet another reservoir on the West Branch of the Delaware River, a plan that prompted a second Supreme Court battle. The court, in 1954, allowed the city to take additional water from the Delaware River system, and the BWS immediately began building the last of its reservoirs, the Cannonsville, in Delaware County.
Constructed from 1955 to 1967, the Cannonsville Reservoir was first placed in service in 1965. The Stilesville Dam impounds 95 billion gallons of water in a reservoir that is 16 miles long. Five more communities were condemned to make way for this reservoir: Beerston, Cannonsville, Rock Rift, Rock Royal and Granton. Another 941 people were forced to move.
Water from the Pepacton, Neversink and Cannonsville Reservoirs is sent to the Rondout Reservoir by gravity via the 25-mile-long East Delaware Tunnel, the 44-mile West Delaware Tunnel and the Neversink Tunnel, which is six miles long. The combined waters are then sent to the city in the world’s longest continuous underground tunnel, the Delaware Aqueduct, which extends 85 miles from the Rondout Reservoir to Hillview Reservoir in Yonkers. The aqueduct, 1,550 feet below ground at one point, runs 600 feet beneath the Hudson River at Chelsea.
For more information on the city’s water system, which includes 19 reservoirs and controlled lakes in seven counties east and west of the Hudson River, visit the NYC Department of Environmental Protection’s web site, click here.
History of the MOA
The landmark NYC Watershed Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) which has guided environmental protection and community preservation efforts in the 2,000-square-mile NYC Watershed since 1997.
Behind the Scenes: The Inside Story of the Watershed Agreement
“Behind the Scenes: The Inside Story of the Watershed Agreement,” was an oral history project partially funded by an Education Grant from the CWC in partnership with the NYC DEP. Read transcripts from all 12 interviews, conducted in the late 1990s and early 2000s by Nancy Burnett Productions, with assistance from Virginia Scheer.
This outstanding series of oral history interviews was conducted in the late 1990s and early 2000s by Nancy Burnett of Nancy Burnett Productions, with assistance from Virginia Scheer.
Funded in part by a Watershed Education Grant awarded by the CWC, the project included interviews with 12 participants involved in the negotiations for the NYC Watershed Memorandum of Agreement. The actual recorded interviews may be heard at the Catskill Watershed Corporation offices, 669 County Highway 38., Arkville, NY.
Audio CDs and transcripts of the 12 interviews were sent to 24 public libraries in the West-of-Hudson Watershed, and were placed in the college libraries at SUNY Delhi, SUNY Ulster in Stone Ridge, SUNY College at Oneonta and Sullivan County Community College, Loch Sheldrake as well as in the NYC Department of Environmental Protection Archives (420 East 38th St., NYC), and the Municipal Archives of the City of New York, 31 Chambers St., Room 101, NYC. Transcripts have been added to the collection at the Millstein Division of US History at the New York Public Library, 5th Avenue and 42nd St., New York City.
The Battle for Water: One Big City, Many Little Towns
“The Battle for Water: One Big City, Many Little Towns,” is a 59-minute audio documentary of excerpts from those original taped interviews, produced by Nancy Burnett.