CITY OF NEW YORK CITY/MULTI-COUNTY PARTNERSHIP, NEW YORK
Protecting Drinking Water
The City of New York, which operates as a city/county consolidated government, and the counties of Delaware, Greene, Schoharie, Sullivan, Ulster, Putnam, and Westchester in New York State, have signed a watershed protection agreement that will protect the source of New York's drinking water supply. The partnership also includes the agricultural community, watershed municipalities, and the state and federal governments. Benefits to the city include a filtration waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, saving billions of dollars in capital costs. Upstate communities benefit from higher property values resulting from environmentally sound agricultural practices and planned sustainable development.
A historic agreement among the City of New York, 7 upstate New York counties, and 72 municipalities will assure a continuous supply of safe, unfiltered water for 9 million New Yorkers while strengthening rural economies in the state. The 1997 Watershed Memorandum of Agreement unites the watershed communities, New York City, New York State, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), environmentalists, and farmers in support of an enhanced watershed protection program for the New York City drinking water supply. The source of this water, world-renowned for its high quality and excellent taste, is a network of 19 reservoirs in 1,969 square miles extending 125 miles north and west of New York City and encompassing two different watersheds. These watersheds supply 8 million city residents and 1 million more people in Westchester, Putnam, Orange, and Ulster Counties with 1.4 billion gallons of drinking water daily.
The agreement, based on voluntary partnerships and locally based watershed protection programs, is designed to ensure that New Yorkers will enjoy high quality water into the 21st century. The program incorporates a multi-jurisdictional strategy to protect and improve water quality for decades to come. The program has already begun and, if it continues to be implemented successfully, New York City expects to receive a long-term waiver of the federal requirement that it filter water from its Catskill/Delaware supply.
According to New York Governor George Pataki, "The agreement not only protects drinking water, it will allow for economic growth in the watershed communities. But this agreement is more than clean water and economic growth; it is a new spirit of partnership between New York City and the watershed communities that will only help enhance New York's economic renewal and national leadership in environmental protection."
New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani added, "This marks the beginning of a long partnership between the city and the watershed communities, a partnership that has great benefits for both the consumers of the water and the residents of the watersheds."
The agreement consists of four separate watershed protection programs:
The city is committed to spending up to $310 million on land acquisition in the watersheds through outright purchase or conservation easement. In October 1997, the city acquired the first parcels of upstate land under the agreement. The city currently has purchase contracts or options to purchase over 8,000 acres from 80 landowners across the watershed.
Watershed Regulatory Program
Watershed Protection and Partnership Program
In response to farmers' concerns about the potential economic impact of proposed revisions to New York City's watershed rules and regulations in 1990, the city put aside its purely regulatory approach and entered into a partnership with the watershed farm community to carry out a locally developed and administered voluntary Watershed Agricultural Program, the first upstate/downstate collaboration to link water quality protection goals with an economic objective: preservation of the watershed's farming economy. The city committed $3.9 million over the first two years to refine and demonstrate an environmentally sound "whole farm planning" approach on ten pilot farms. These farms will be used to market the program to all willing farmers in the watershed over the next five years, a project for which the city has committed $35.2 million. The farmer-led Watershed Agricultural Council had already exceeded its goal of 85 percent farm participation by fall 1997. Because the program has been so successful, New York City will not seek further regulation of the agricultural watershed.
Watershed Agreement Payment Program
Implementation of the Watershed Program
Several components of the watershed protection program that are funded by the City of New York are already under way (see box). When the agreement took effect, EPA issued a five-year Filtration Avoidance Determination. A review of the city's compliance with that determination will be completed by May 31, 2000. Commissioner Joel A. Miele, Sr., P.E., of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection said, "I am confident that the city will meet the provisions of the determination."
The Watershed Protection Agreement reflects the shared conviction of city and county representatives that voluntary partnerships can protect water quality as effectively as regulatory restrictions. According to Miele, "Most components of the watershed protection program are already being implemented. Cooperation among all the parties to the agreement has been outstanding."
Components of the Watershed Protection Agreement
Upgrading of the nine city-owned upstate sewage treatment plants (cost: approximately $232 million);
Rehabilitation and upgrading of city-owned dams and water supply facilities in the watershed (cost: approximately $240 million);
Implementation of the Watershed Agricultural Program (cost: $35.2 million);
Construction or upgrading of public and privately owned wastewater infrastructure, including failing septic systems (cost: approximately $300 million);
Acquisition of hydrologically sensitive lands in high priority areas near reservoirs, streams and wetlands (cost: from $260 million to $310 million);
Establishment of the Catskill Fund for the Future, an economic development bank to support responsible, environmentally sensitive projects in the watershed (cost $75 million);
Extensive review of proposed developments and other projects to ensure compliance with watershed regulations and standards and the protection of water quality;
Monitoring of water quality in streams, reservoirs, and the distribution system;
Formation of the Watershed Protection and Partnership Council; and
Establishment of Sportsmen's Advisory Councils to review and recommend possible public recreational uses of city-owned lands in the watershed.
For further information, contact:
The United States Conference of Mayors
J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
Copyright © 1998, US Conference of Mayors, All rights reserved.