Review of the New York City
Committee to Review the New York City Watershed Protection Program
Water Science and Technology Board
Division on Earth and Life Studies
A Consensus Study Report of
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001
This activity was supported by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection under Contract No. CAT-481. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for the project.
International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-67967-1
International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-67967-2
Digital Object Identifier: https://doi.org/10.17226/25851
Additional copies of this publication are available from the National Academies Press, 500 Fifth Street, NW, Keck 360, Washington, DC 20001; (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334-3313; http://www.nap.edu.
Copyright 2020 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
Suggested citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Review of the New York City Watershed Protection Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25851.
The National Academy of Sciences was established in 1863 by an Act of Congress, signed by President Lincoln, as a private, nongovernmental institution to advise the nation on issues related to science and technology. Members are elected by their peers for outstanding contributions to research. Dr. Marcia McNutt is president.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences to bring the practices of engineering to advising the nation. Members are elected by their peers for extraordinary contributions to engineering. Dr. John L. Anderson is president.
The National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) was established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences to advise the nation on medical and health issues. Members are elected by their peers for distinguished contributions to medicine and health. Dr. Victor J. Dzau is president.
The three Academies work together as the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation and conduct other activities to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions. The National Academies also encourage education and research, recognize outstanding contributions to knowledge, and increase public understanding in matters of science, engineering, and medicine.
Learn more about the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine at www.nationalacademies.org.
Consensus Study Reports published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine document the evidence-based consensus on the study’s statement of task by an authoring committee of experts. Reports typically include findings, conclusions, and recommendations based on information gathered by the committee and the committee’s deliberations. Each report has been subjected to a rigorous and independent peer-review process and it represents the position of the National Academies on the statement of task.
Proceedings published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine chronicle the presentations and discussions at a workshop, symposium, or other event convened by the National Academies. The statements and opinions contained in proceedings are those of the participants and are not endorsed by other participants, the planning committee, or the National Academies.
For information about other products and activities of the National Academies, please visit www.nationalacademies.org/about/whatwedo.
COMMITTEE TO REVIEW THE NEW YORK CITY WATERSHED PROTECTION PROGRAM
PAUL K. BARTEN (Chair), University of Massachusetts, Amherst
DOROTHY J. MERRITTS (Vice-Chair), Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, PA
MICHAEL A. ANDERSON, University of California, Riverside
ELIZABETH W. BOYER, Pennsylvania State University, University Park
ZACHARY M. EASTON, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg
STEPHEN A. ESTES-SMARGIASSI, Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, Boston, MA
ROBERT M. HIRSCH, U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VA
DESMOND F. LAWLER, University of Texas, Austin
MENU B. LEDDY, Orange County Water District, Fountain Valley, CA
JAY R. LUND, NAE, University of California, Davis
ANITA MILMAN, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
CATHERINE A. O’CONNOR, Metropolitan Water Reclamation, Chicago, IL
SONI M. PRADHANANG, University of Rhode Island, Kingston
KENNETH H. RECKHOW, Duke University, Durham, NC
JOHN S. SCHWARTZ, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
CHRISTINE E. STAUBER, Georgia State University, Atlanta
RICHARD C. STEDMAN, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Staff
LAURA J. EHLERS, Study Director, Water Science and Technology Board
APRIL MELVIN, Program Officer, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate
ERIC J. EDKIN, Program Coordinator, Board on Earth Sciences and Resources
BRENDAN MCGOVERN, Research Assistant, Water Science and Technology Board (as of February 2020)
RAYMOND M. CHAPPETTA, Research Assistant and Senior Program Assistant, Board on Earth Sciences and Resources (until April 2020)
ELLENI GIORGIS, Program Assistant, Water Science and Technology Board
WATER SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY BOARD
CATHERINE L. KLING (Chair), NAS, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
NEWSHA AJAMI, Stanford University, Stanford, CA
JONATHAN D. ARTHUR, Florida Geological Survey, Tallahassee
RUTH L. BERKELMAN, NAM, Emory University, Atlanta, GA
ROBERT M. HIRSCH, U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VA
WENDY D. GRAHAM, University of Florida, Gainesville
VENKATARAMAN LAKSHMI, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
MARK W. LECHEVALLIER, Dr. Water Consulting, LLC, Morrison, CO
MARGARET A. PALMER, SESYNC – University of Maryland, Annapolis
DAVID L. SEDLAK, NAE, University of California, Berkeley
DAVID L. WEGNER, Jacobs Engineering, Tucson, Arizona
P. KAY WHITLOCK, Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Ltd., Rosemont, IL
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Staff
ELIZABETH EIDE, Director
LAURA J. EHLERS, Senior Staff Officer
STEPHANIE E. JOHNSON, Senior Staff Officer
M. JEANNE AQUILINO, Financial/Administrative Associate
COURTNEY DEVANE, Administrative Coordinator
ERIC EDKIN, Program Coordinator
ELLENI GIORGIS, Program Assistant
This Consensus Study Report was reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in making each published report as sound as possible and to ensure that it meets the institutional standards for quality, objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the process.
We thank the following individuals for their review of this report:
Although the reviewers listed above provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the content of the report nor did they see the final draft before its release. The review of this report was overseen by David A. Dzombak, NAE, Carnegie Mellon University, and Christine L. Moe, Emory University. They were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with the standards of the National Academies and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content rests entirely with the authoring committee and the National Academies.
This page intentionally left blank.
Twenty-three years ago, at the first meeting of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee to Review the New York City Watershed Management Strategy, the tension in the large and stately meeting room was palpable. The landmark Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) had just been signed after many years of complex and difficult negotiations. The NYC DEP’s Filtration Avoidance Program, as it was then called, was anxiously awaiting the first major installment of funding to add staff and simultaneously begin ambitious projects with new partnership organizations in the Croton, Catskill, and Delaware Systems. The Croton Water Treatment Plant was still in the design phase and many years away from completion. However, the 1993 Cryptosporidiosis outbreak in Milwaukee—which sickened more than 400,000 people—was a vivid reminder of the dire consequences of a breach in the “multiple barrier approach” to water supply management and public health protection.
The proverbial multi-billion-dollar question, first and foremost in the minds of many, was “Would it work?” Would the proposed combination of: (1) wastewater treatment plant upgrades, agricultural and forestry best management practices, enhanced regulations, and many other source water protection practices (yet to be determined), (2) forms of development and types of economic activity that would not degrade water quality, (3) reservoir system operations, and (4) disinfection with chlorine be sufficient to meet the stringent standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act and its amendments, rules, and regulations? “We think so” was the duly cautious answer by the NYC DEP staff, state and federal regulators, watershed communities, and environmental organizations. As one of the least experienced committee members, with limited knowledge of the complexities of system operations, disinfection processes, and public health monitoring and protection, my naïve [thankfully, unspoken] “Of course it will work!” confidence was appropriately tempered by the end of the second committee meeting.
The question did not focus on the component parts of what is now called the Watershed Protection Program (e.g., advanced wastewater treatment, septic system repairs and upgrades, riparian buffers, waste management on dairy farms, soil erosion control, stormwater management, and many others); their effectiveness and their limitations were already demonstrated in other systems. The multi-billion-dollar question centered on the hypothesized cumulative effect of “the sum of the parts” and the regulatory thresholds. In relation to the well-founded and time-tested traditions of water resources engineering and public health protection, the question was, would this new program upstream of a well-managed reservoir system and chlorine disinfection be reliable …come what may (e.g., the conditions and circumstances that led to the 1993 waterborne disease outbreak in Milwaukee)?
The second Filtration Avoidance Determination (FAD) was issued shortly before the first National Academies Committee began its review in 1997. This revision of the 1993 FAD endorsed the key components of the Memorandum of Agreement and raised the stakes for New York City. It is also worth noting that average daily water consumption had been declining since the implementation of universal metering, distribution
system leak detection and repairs, and water conservation measures (i.e., low-flow plumbing fixtures) were implemented in the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, in 1997 it was 200 million gallons per day greater than it is today (~1,000 MGD). More water consumption equals shorter residence times and fewer options for system managers, especially during extreme events. The implications of climate change were beginning to enter the collective consciousness of water resource management, science, and policy; they were already being analyzed and discussed by the NYC DEP in the late 1980s. And it is no exaggeration to say the world was (and still is) watching this adaptive management experiment.
In 2020, this consensus report unequivocally [sic] answers the “Has it worked?” question—“Yes, but.” Yes … but how can the Watershed Protection Program be strengthened against the uncertainties associated with global climate change and the potential for greater variability in streamflow and water quality? Yes …but how can the Watershed Protection Program be adjusted and refined to realize the community vitality goals of watershed communities envisioned by the MOA? Yes …but how can the Watershed Protection Program adapt to changes in agriculture, timber harvesting, tourism and recreational use, and other land and resource uses? Yes …but how can subprograms, monitoring, and modeling be more effectively integrated? Yes …but how can the skills, dedication, and professionalism of the first generation of Watershed Protection Program leaders, technical specialists, operations staff, and partners be seamlessly transferred to a new generation?
The length of this consensus report is representative of how much the Watershed Protection Program has grown, the scope of its accomplishments, and the scientific, operational, socioeconomic, and political challenges that remain. Our findings, conclusions and recommendations are respectfully submitted. They are intended to assist all the participants and stakeholders in the Watershed Protection Program—both ideally and practically—to convert “Yes, but” in 2020 to …“Yes, and here is how we’ve met the most daunting challenges” and “Yes, and here is how we have capitalized on the best opportunities” during the next 10 to 20 years of the Watershed Protection Program.
This study was established under the auspices of the Water Science and Technology Board of the National Academies. The Committee to Review the New York City Watershed Protection Program included 17 members, held eight committee meetings, and several study tours and site visits in the Catskills. Guided by a wide-ranging charge, the Committee reviewed and discussed the voluminous reports and web resources generated by more than 20 years of watershed science, policy and management initiated by the Memorandum of Agreement and Filtration Avoidance Determinations promulgated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Department of Health. Our review encompassed (1) the major components (subprograms) of the Watershed Protection Program, (2) water quality monitoring and modeling efforts, (3) operational controls within the Catskill-Delaware reservoir system to maximize water quality and protect public health, (4) the relative effectiveness and sustainability of Watershed Protection Program components, and (5) contingency planning and management options to address climate change, invasive species, and regulatory trends. This project revisited the initial National Academies review (1997-1999), published in 2000, and immediately followed the Review of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection Operations Support Tool for Water Supply (2018). Dr. Laura Ehlers was study director for the 2000, 2018, and 2020 reviews. Dr. Robert M. Hirsch was a committee member for the OST project before selflessly agreeing to serve again on this Committee.
Our work was supported by many people in many ways. On behalf of the Committee and National Academies Staff, I would like to thank the following people for preparing and delivering presentations to the Committee: Paul Rush (Deputy Commissioner), David Warne (Assistant Commissioner), Kimberlee Kane, Steve Schindler, Jeffrey Graff, Elizabeth Reichheld, Michael Meyer, David Tobias, Ira Stern, Anne Seeley, Kerri Ann Alderisio, Jim Porter, Adao Matonse, Rakesh Gelda, Rajith Mukundan, James Mayfield, Karen Moore, John Schwartz, and Matthew Giannetta—New York City Department of Environmental Protection; Alan Rosa and Michael Triolo—Catskill Watershed Corporation; Craig Cashman, Sally Fairbairn, and Larry Hulle—Watershed Agricultural Council; Jim Tierney and Thomas Snow—New York State Department of Environmental Conservation; Jeff Senterman—Catskill Center; Gary Ginsberg and Patrick Palmer—New York State Department of Health; and Peter Lopez, Regional Administrator—U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2. We also thank the many people who spoke during open microphone sessions or submitted written comments to the Committee during the course of the study.
Our work was enhanced by Tim Duerden and the Delaware County Historical Association, Delhi, New York, Katherine Myers and the Shandaken Historical Museum, Pine Hill, New York, Donna Stebbens and the Time and the Valleys Museum, Grahamsville, New York, and the Zadock Pratt Museum, Prattsville, New York, through access to their exhibits and archival resources, and many helpful insights about the Catskills region. We also thank the many technical staff members of the Watershed Agricultural Program, Watershed Forestry Program, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Cornell Cooperative Extension, U.S. Geological Survey, and farmers and landowners for very effective field presentations and discussions. Finally, we thank the Delaware County Board of Supervisors, Delaware County Planning and Economic Development Departments, Delaware County Chamber of Commerce, and many interested citizens for helping us to better understand their concerns and aspirations.
The entire senior staff of the NYC DEP has been exceptionally candid and helpful throughout the lengthy study process. Dr. Kimberlee Kane served as our principal point of contact, making invaluable contributions to our work with timely, efficient, and thorough responses to our many requests for information. Having served in the same capacity for the 2000 and 2018 studies, Dr. Kane had a sophisticated understanding of the complex and conservative National Academies study process. This connected the Committee to her comprehensive knowledge of the NYC water supply system, the Watershed Protection Program, staffing, and data and information resources. As noted earlier, David Warne, Assistant Commissioner leading the Watershed Protection Program, and Paul Rush, Deputy Commissioner for Water Supply Operations, made numerous presentations and participated in panel discussions and field tours throughout our study. Their availability, dedication, openness, and professionalism were mirrored by the entire NYC DEP staff as well as their long-term counterparts, Alan Rosa of the Catskill Watershed Corporation, Craig Cashman of the Watershed Agricultural Council, Larry Hulle of the Watershed Agricultural Program, board and advisory committee members, and local officials. The respectful dialogue—especially when influenced by conflicting interests and perspectives—that marked the interactions of leaders, program managers, technical specialists and participants is, of course, essential to sustaining water quality for people and ecosystems in the Catskills and more than nine million consumers of New York City water. Put another way, although it might be possible to maintain “company manners” for a short-term visit by a few outside experts, the comprehensive study process that extended over two years and included hundreds of interactions allowed the Committee to observe, understand, and appreciate the day-today and long-term character of the Watershed Protection Program and its diverse participants. The mutual respect, pragmatic interaction, active collaboration, and a sense of interdependence that have developed along with the Watershed Protection Program are plainly evident. This bodes well for the future of the Catskills region and metropolitan New York.
It has been a singular honor to serve as Chair of this talented and dedicated committee and to work, once again, with the professional staff of the National Academies’ Water Science and Technology Board. The National Academies study process is unique in the best sense of the word. Working within a well-established and rigorous framework, a diverse group of carefully vetted volunteers (each with essential expertise relative to the Statement of Task) must efficiently and objectively analyze a mountain of data and information, carefully consider a wide range of perspectives, enter into detailed discussions to reach a shared understanding, then actively contribute to the development, refinement, and revision of an authentic consensus report (that is subjected to a comprehensive and rigorous review).
The National Academies Study Director and my colleague and essential counterpart, Dr. Laura Ehlers, met her responsibilities in the most exceptional manner, under the most trying circumstances, to shepherd this project to successful completion. The Committee and Dr. Ehlers were capably assisted by members of the National Academies professional staff—Brendan McGovern, Dr. April Melvin, Eric Edkin, Raymond Chappetta, and Elleni Giorgis. Their professionalism, focus, and attention to detail were central to our work and well-being. Thank you to each and every member of the Committee and Staff for your perseverance and abiding commitment to serving the common good.
Paul K. Barten, Chair
Committee to Review the New York City
Watershed Protection Program
This page intentionally left blank.