Drinking water safety is a fundamental concern of all urban water systems. Successful water systems invest resources and attention in diverse activities to support and improve drinking water safety. New York City (NYC) has been a pioneer in this diverse range of activities since the development of its Croton water supply in the 1840s.
Like all major American urban water supply systems, NYC, through its Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP), has taken a “multiple barrier” approach to ensuring safe drinking water. This approach entails many actions, from reducing contaminant loads emanating in upstream watersheds and to City-owned upstream reservoirs and aqueducts, to several forms of drinking water treatment, quality controls in the city’s water distribution system, and public health activities to detect any waterborne illnesses that might exist despite the City’s other efforts. Erecting multiple barriers to drinking water contamination is understood to increase the reliability and stability of drinking water supplies (Haas and Trussell, 1998).
Compared to other American cities supplied by surface water, NYC places heavier-than-usual reliance on managing upstream sources of contamination for the portion of its water supply coming from the Catskill and Delaware watersheds (the so-called Catskill/Delaware supply, which usually provides 90 percent of NYC’s daily water use). In the absence of filtration, water quality from the Catskill/Delaware system is maintained by a broad Watershed Protection Program and significant investments in disinfection, distribution system safety, and waterborne disease detection, along with occasional alum addition to promote settling of suspended solids in Kensico Reservoir. This program targets primarily waterborne microbial pathogens, turbidity, nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, dissolved organic matter (DOM), and to a lesser extent other toxic compounds and pollutants. These contaminants can come from a wide variety of sources in the City’s watersheds, from forest, agricultural, and urban land uses, as well as resuspension from lakes and rivers and atmospheric deposition. As part of the Watershed Protection Program, a wide range of activities is undertaken to monitor and control these sources of contamination, with considerable success.
Twenty years ago, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine reviewed NYC’s water supply system, focusing on the Watershed Protection Program that the City had just commenced to avoid filtering the Catskill/Delaware water supply (NRC, 2000). After 20 years of intensive watershed management activities, the NYC DEP has asked the National Academies to once again evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of the Watershed Protection Program. This review is, of course, done in the context of the City’s overall portfolio of drinking water safety activities both today and over the long term. The study’s statement of task is found in Box 1-1.
This report assesses the efficacy and future of NYC’s extensive watershed management activities. Since 1997, $2.5 billion have been spent on various subprograms of the overarching Watershed Protection Program, averaging $100 million annually in recent years. Although some subprograms are voluntary and others are mandatory, all derive from the 1997 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA, discussed in detail below) and the
subsequent filtration avoidance determinations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the New York State Department of Health that stem from compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The NYC Watershed Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) was signed on January 21, 1997, after months of negotiation by NYC, communities in the Catskill/Delaware watershed, the EPA, New York State, and certain environmental organizations. The MOA launched a massive program of watershed management and payments to watershed interests in exchange for an EPA waiver from filtration effective until December 31, 2002. The waiver has been renewed in subsequent filtration avoidance determinations at five- and ten-year intervals.
The MOA is a remarkable, precedent-setting document (Platt et al., 2000) with six major sections (Articles I-VI)1 and voluminous appendixes. Broadly speaking, its origins can be traced to (1) two centuries of interac-
tion between NYC and the Catskills region; (2) nine decades of upstate-downstate conflict in relation to the construction of the Catskill/Delaware system; (3) the social, political, and economic changes of the post-World War II era; and (4) the emergence and evolution of the environmental movement and federal environmental and public health laws (1970s to present).
In a comprehensive first-hand account of the development of the MOA, Michael Finnegan—counsel to then-Governor George Pataki and convener and mediator of the dispute resolution and three-year negotiation process—memorializes the complex, politically charged circumstances and approach that culminated in this historic compromise and affirmation of shared responsibility (Finnegan, 1997). This review article should be read by anyone with substantive involvement with the Watershed Protection Program. It clearly and vividly recounts the “collision course” of historical animosity, property rights, Home Rule traditions, watershed protection, economic development, and public health …pressurized by the threat of long, costly lawsuits with likely “lose-lose” outcomes. These circumstances are by no means unique to the Catskills, NYC, and New York State, and are typical of many environmental and natural resource management controversies.
As noted above, the MOA has six major sections or “articles.” Article I has three parts: (1) naming the parties who negotiated and signed the agreement, (2) 12 clauses (core components and guiding principles), and (3) a customary set of definitions. All the clauses are important, but five of them (6, 7, 8, 9, and 12) embody the breakthrough compromises needed to complete the MOA, provide the framework for the Watershed Protection Program, and qualify for a series of filtration avoidance determinations. Clause 6 states “the Parties enter into a new era of partnership to cooperate in the development and implementation of a Watershed Protection Program that maintains and enhances the quality of the New York City drinking water supply system and the economic vitality and social character of the Watershed communities.” It clearly articulates the shared responsibility, mutual respect, and political parity that was—and still is—needed to ensure that the Watershed Protection Program would be effective and sustainable. Throughout this report, the economic vitality and social character of the watershed communities are collectively referred to as community vitality, enhancement of which is one of the two major goals of the MOA (the other being enhancement of water quality).
Clause 7 of Article I accepts, as legally enforceable, the 1994 Watershed Rules and Regulations, the Land Acquisition Program, and partnership initiatives described and referenced in the MOA. Clause 8 renounces the use of eminent domain (authorized in 1905) and specifies that the Land Acquisition Program shall be solely based on willing buyer–willing seller transactions. This concession by NYC was vitally important, especially in the Delaware system where the (then) relatively recent use of eminent domain to build the Pepacton and Cannonsville reservoirs in the 1940s and 1950s set a “never again” bargaining position by the Coalition of Watershed Towns on behalf of their constituents. Clause 9 anticipates and acknowledges what has, in fact, proven to be the challenging and controversial task of reconciling NYC’s land acquisition goals, as well as other programs and conditions, with the planning and development goals and needs of watershed communities. The final clause (12) formalized this landmark agreement, in which former adversaries became partners and a century of conflict was replaced (or at least minimized) with a pledge—”to act in good faith and to take all necessary and appropriate actions, in cooperation with one another, to effect the purposes of this [Memorandum of] Agreement.”
Article II thoroughly described the terms of reference for the complex and inherently controversial (because of the balancing act with economic development) Land Acquisition Program. Article III linked the MOA directly to the revised NYC DEP Watershed Rules and Regulations, which, in turn, addressed state and federal mandates in the Safe Drinking Water Act and its amendments. Article IV describes the governance structures and co-management approach of the Watershed Protection and Partnership Council and other regional partnerships (e.g., Catskill Watershed Corporation, Chambers of Commerce and Planning and Economic Development Departments). Article V (66 pages + attachments) funded the Catskill Watershed Corporation and described and funded a host of other watershed protection programs and projects (e.g., WWTP upgrades). Article VI includes 20 pages of miscellaneous provisions to conclude the MOA.
Twenty-five years of direct engagement and operational experience have brought about a laudable change in the philosophy and awareness of the central entity—the NYC DEP—as well as the other signatories to the MOA.
The essence of watershed management—which is the process of organizing and guiding land and natural resource use to reflect the competing needs and priorities of all stakeholders—is to prevent contaminants from reaching water resources. With careful planning and communication, water quality can be protected while still serving multiple priorities.
In the New York City water supply watersheds, key stakeholders include the nine million urban consumers of the water supply, nearly a quarter-million residents of the older and more suburbanized Croton Watershed (East of Hudson), tens of thousands of residents of the rural Catskill/Delaware Watershed (West of Hudson), and the diverse flora and fauna of the entire watershed ecosystem. This complex web of multiple stakeholders means that watershed protection requires a delicate balance between urban/rural and upstate/downstate interests.2
More than 20 years after it was signed, it is fair to ask whether the MOA is working, from the perspective of all stakeholders. To be sure, the intervening years have brought unanticipated consequences, recalcitrant problems, persistent sources of friction, and new challenges (not least, global climate change). Nevertheless, the dedication of the partners, cumulative accomplishments of diverse programs, and the determination needed to sustain long-term accomplishments originate from the MOA. Hence, the MOA should continue to be regarded—and frequently consulted—as the founding document of the Watershed Protection Program and the many partnerships central to its success. The MOA is especially important as generational change occurs in leadership positions, field operations, technical support, and community outreach. New Watershed Protection Program participants and community members should think of the MOA as a living document rather than a relic of the late-20th century.
This report evaluates all programs listed in Table 1-1 that comprise NYC’s Watershed Protection Program, looking at such factors as program success, funding, how prioritization is accomplished within the programs, and the extent of any performance monitoring, among many other factors. The report also examines the current and future effectiveness of these programs in the context of likely future conditions and the wider portfolio of drinking water supply activities.
Although drinking water safety and cost are the first priorities for NYC and state and federal regulators, the impacts of watershed management on upstream communities and the environment also are major concerns. NYC’s unusual reliance on high water quality from upstream watersheds has brought considerable attention to, investment in, and regulation of human activities in the upstream watersheds. Some components of the Watershed Protection Program have been sources of concern and disruption, as well as investment and environmental improvement, for upstream watershed communities. This report also reviews these impacts in the context of the history, the present, and the likely futures of these upstream communities.
A brief introduction to the layout of Table 1-1, which in turn serves as an introduction to the full report and to the extensive Watershed Protection Program, is given below.
In Table 1-1, the first two columns give the broad program areas and the specific subprograms within those areas. As indicated by the chapter numbers in the first column, Chapters 5 through 12 are structured by these program areas; earlier chapters, including this one, give broader context to the efforts of the NYC DEP to provide safe drinking water to the approximately 9 million people they serve. Many program areas include several individual subprograms, each with its own history, budget, and goals. Several subprograms were initiated in the early 1990s and have operated continuously since that time. Indeed, although the MOA was not formally signed until 1997, many subprograms were initiated prior to that agreement and were instrumental in allowing the agreement to be reached.
The third and fourth columns in Table 1-1 indicate, respectively, the cumulative amount of money spent on each subprogram since its inception and the expected annual funding for those programs in the coming
few to several years. Values in those columns indicate the different scales of the subprograms, as well as the fact that some programs have largely met their goals and will have little future funding compared to earlier expenditures. In some cases, details or breakdown of the overall funding is also given. Note that salaries of NYC DEP employees are not included in any of the table entries (there are currently 140 full-time employees in the NYC DEP Watershed Protection Program—K. Kane, personal communication, 2020). Nonetheless, when NYC DEP contracts with the Catskill Watershed Corporation or the Watershed Agricultural Council to run one of the subprograms, part of that money is spent on staff time (not including city employees) and is represented in the table.
Although the distinction is blurry in some cases, column 5 in Table 1-1 indicates whether a subprogram is meant to remediate an existing problem (or one that existed at the start of the program) or to prevent a water quality problem from occurring in the future.
The sixth column in Table 1-1 reflects the subprograms’ roles in achieving the primary objectives elucidated in the MOA: protection or enhancement of the water quality in the reservoirs and ultimately in NYC drinking water, and enhancing the vitality of the communities in the upstream watersheds. The primary water quality objectives of the Watershed Protection Program are to avoid, prevent, and mitigate (in that priority order) pollutants of concern including (1) suspended solids and turbidity associated with erosion, (2) nutrients (especially phosphorus and nitrogen), (3) toxins (e.g., metals, hydrocarbons, algal toxins, and pharmaceutical compounds), and (4) pathogens (e.g., Giardia, and Cryptosporidium). Almost all of the subprograms aim to protect water quality goals by focusing efforts on managing one or more of the pollutants of concern.
Along with the goal in the MOA of protecting water quality is the goal of enhancing community vitality in the watershed region. Community vitality can refer to a variety of different metrics that assess the economic and social well-being of groups of people, as described in Box 1-2 and Chapter 13. As shown in Table 1-1, many of the subprograms of the Watershed Protection Program have obvious community vitality benefits, and yet these benefits are rarely, if ever, measured, unlike the water quality benefits of many of the subprograms.
Although not specified in the MOA, ecosystem protection is a secondary goal found in the FAD, under the principle that well-functioning, intact natural ecosystems are critical for maintaining and enhancing water quality (Stern, 2018). Subprograms that target ecosystem protection lay out plans and best management practices to (1) avoid or prevent short-term water quality impacts, (2) maintain or reinforce ecological integrity, and (3) guard against land use changes that will have a negative impact on the quality of NYC drinking water.
The last column of Table 1-1 delineates which compounds and contaminants each subprogram is primarily designed to address, and includes only the four major types: microbial pathogens, nutrients, turbidity, and DOM (see Chapter 4 for in-depth discussion of these pollutants and their sources). Details of all of these subprograms are given in Chapters 5 through 12, but Table 1-1 serves as an overview of the entire Watershed Protection Program and the relative scales of the individual programs, at least in terms of overall past and present budgets.
One might consider it nearly axiomatic that an unfiltered water supply would try to own all of the land in the watershed and allow minimal use thereof, but the NYC water supply does not follow that model. The reasons include the massive scale of the watersheds that need protection to supply the huge population of NYC with clean drinking water, as well as that the region was already well-developed, even if sparsely populated, when the first reservoirs were built. Nevertheless, the Land Acquisition Program and the Land Management Programs are a central and expensive part of the overall program. These programs attempt to protect water quality while maintaining and enhancing community vitality, a balance that is not always easy to strike and can be a source of friction between NYC DEP and upstate communities.
Some parts of the overall Watershed Protection Program are far less controversial. For example, upgrading existing wastewater treatment plants in the 1990s was an obvious way to reduce contamination into the reservoirs and, given that the funding would come from NYC, was not controversial. Although expensive on a unit-cost basis, it has been effective and has eliminated an important and obvious source of human pathogens. Looking to the future, one might ask whether similar treatment could be established for the wastes from domesticated animals (at least where the animals are confined to small areas). Collection and treatment of these wastes is a complex and costly task, but could be an appropriate use of NYC watershed protection funds.
TABLE 1-1 Individual Programs Within New York City’s Watershed Protection Program Reviewed in This Report
|Program Area||Individual Program||1993-2019 Funding (millions)||Future Annual Funding (millions)||Program Type||Primary Objectives Addressed||Primary Pollutants Addressed|
|Agriculture (Chapter 5)||Watershed Agricultural Program||$253
($237 M Cat/Del only)
|$15.3||Remedial, preventative||Water quality and community vitality||Microbes, nutrients|
|Erosion and flooding (Chapter 6)||Stream Management Program||$165||$14||Remedial||Water quality||Turbidity|
|Catskill Turbidity Control Programa||$78||none||Remedial, preventative||Water quality||Turbidity|
|Land management (Chapter 7)||Land Acquisition Program||$574||$12.4||Preventative||Water quality and community vitality||All|
|Land Management Program||$7||$0.04||Preventative||Water quality and community vitality||All|
|Wastewater (Chapter 8)||New WWTPs||$254
($217 M capital costs; $37 M = 15 years O&M)
|Remedial||Water quality||Microbes, nutrients|
|City-owned WWTP upgrades Cat/Del/Cro||$271
($210 for Cat/Del only)
|No cost (Future funding is not part of the Watershed Protection Program)||Remedial||Water quality||Microbes, nutrients|
|Non-City-owned WWTP upgrades (O&M) Cat/Del/Cro||$607
($462 M = capital costs; $145 M = 15 yrs O&M)
($14 M/yr = O&M costs; $5 M/yr = estimate for capital replacement and residual upgrade costs)
|Remedial||Water quality||Microbes, nutrients|
|Septic System Programs||$107||~ $8.6||Remedial||Water quality||Microbes, nutrients, turbidity|
|Stormwater (Chapter 9)||West-of-Hudson (WOH) Stormwater Program||$66.6
($30.2 M Stormwater Retrofit Program; $36.4 M = Future Stormwater Control Program)
($0.5 M = SW reimbursements; $0.5 M = SW retrofit capital costs; $0.3 M = SW retrofit O&M costs)
|Remedial, preventative||Water quality||Turbidity, microbes, nutrients|
|East of Hudson (EOH) Stormwater Program||$25
(Reflects EOH Watershed Corp funded stormwater retrofits; no estimate for retrofits in 1990s/early 2000s.)
|$3.5||Remedial, preventative||Water quality||Turbidity, microbes, nutrients|
|Ecosystem programs (Chapter 10)||Forestry Programs||$3.1||$0.5||Remedial, preventative||Water quality and community vitality||Dissolved organic matter (DOM)|
|Invasive Species Program||$1.2
(Mostly wetland mapping and functional assessment contracts; invasive species and aquatic ecology were mostl staff time and minor OTPS costs)
(Mostly invasive species treatment and analysis)
|Remedial, preventative||Ecosystem protection||NA|
|Wetlands Program||Preventative||Ecosystem protection and water quality||Nutrients|
|Aquatic Ecology Program||Support||Ecosystem protection||NA|
|Public health (Chapter 11)||Waterborne disease surveillance||$0.8
(OTPS costs only; DOHMH and NYC DEP staff is bulk of the program)
|Microbial compliance monitoring||$7
(Rough estimate of combined laboratory and field costs)
|Waterfowl Management Program||$34||$1.8c||Preventative||Water quality||Microbes|
|Monitoring/modeling (Chapter 12)||Water quality monitoring||$5d||Support||Water quality||Turbidity, nutrients, DOM|
|Operations Support Tool||$9.6
(Spent as part of the CTCP)
|Reservoir modeling||$8.6||$0.62||Support||Water quality||Turbidity, nutrients, DOM|
|Watershed modeling||Support||Water quality||Turbidity, nutrients|
|Totale||$2.5 billion||~$100 million|
SOURCE: All funding values from Kimberlee Kane, NYC DEP, personal communication, November 2019.
NOTES: For all programs, NYC DEP personnel salaries are not counted for any category. However, when NYC DEP contracts with the Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC) or the Watershed Agricultural Council (WAC), part of that money is spent on staff time (not including city employees).
Cat/Del/Cro = Catskill/Delaware/Croton; CTCP = Catskill Turbidity Control Program; DOHMH = NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; O&M = operations and maintenance; OTPS = other than personnel salaries; SW = stormwater; WDRAP = Waterborne Disease Risk Assessment Program; WQ = water quality; WWTP = wastewater treatment plant
a The CTCP is not part of the Stream Management Program and was largely a structural analysis that identified potentially feasible, suitable, and cost effective measures for turbidity control. The CTCP also included extensive modeling and sensitivity analyses. NYC DEP decided to proceed with construction of a Cat/Del interconnection at Shaft 4, improvements to the Catskill Aqueduct stop shutter facilities, and modified operations with the development and use of OST.
b This does not include annual expenditures of the Future Stormwater Controls Program since those funds are turned over as a lump sum to CWC.
c This does not include cost of Delaware Aqueduct shutdown, which is $4.2 M for additional surveys at Ashokan, Cross River, and Croton Falls.
d This annual cost, which is not part of the Watershed Protection Program, includes: (1) field and lab expenses for all monitoring and analysis at one of four laboratories and some contract lab costs; (2) distribution and watershed samples for any reason - operations, compliance, modeling and surveillance; and (3) pathogen monitoring and WDRAP costs cited elsewhere in the funding table. This annual cost does not include: (1) personnel or facility costs (i.e., lease or utilities). Of four laboratories, two are in leased space and two are in NYC DEP facilities; (2) wildlife program and modeling program contracts (cited elsewhere in the funding table); or (3) periodic replacement of boats and vehicles.
e Total committed. For the historical funding, this is the sum of entries in the table, not including water quality monitoring and modeling. Averaged over 26 years, this comes to about $96 million/year. However, NYC DEP feels this value ($2.5 billion) is likely to be an overestimate because it includes money that was not strictly FAD related. NYC DEP is more comfortable stating that $1.7 billion has been spent historically on the Watershed Protection Program. For the future annual expenditures, the total is $83 million per year (not including water quality monitoring). This is less than $96 million (the historical average) because not every contract and program is included, e.g., it does not include any Croton WWTP funds. To more accurately estimate future annual funding, NYC DEP uses the value of $100 million because that is what the agency spent in the 10 years between 2007 and 2017 (from the 2007 FAD). Hence, that is the value given in the table.
Much less obvious to the general public, either in NYC or in the upstate watersheds, is the importance of support activities such as monitoring and modeling. Monitoring water quality, evaluating the data in terms of progress toward watershed protection goals, modeling the expected impacts of proposed watershed protection actions, and communicating those results to a full range of stakeholders (i.e., program managers, watershed residents, regulatory agencies, NYC water users, public officials, and other interested parties) are crucial to the success of the Watershed Protection Program.
Monitoring, assessment, and modeling are also key elements of adaptive management—a purposeful approach of systematic scientific improvement, management assessment, and hypothesis testing that can increase knowledge of a system (often represented in system models) and reduce the uncertainty of management outcomes over time (Holling, 1978; Walters, 1986, 1997). In the context of a conservation or restoration program, adaptive management is an iterative process: assumptions are tested and improved systematically as actions are implemented to achieve desired outcomes. It is the information from monitoring that leads to modification, or adaptation, of assumptions, models, and management actions. By explicitly documenting what is learned about the system (failures and successes) through this iterative approach, managers can improve future decisions even under uncertainty and in the face of climate change. Throughout this report, adaptive management is called on to enhance various elements of the Watershed Protection Program.
Some key findings of the 2000 National Academies report (NRC, 2000) are summarized here, along with some overarching commentary on the changes and accomplishments that have been made through the combined efforts of the NYC DEP and the upstate communities in the Catskill and Delaware watersheds. Ongoing challenges also are indicated, as the processes and dual goals of protecting water quality and enhancing community vitality are necessarily dynamic. As discussed below, the NYC DEP has made a major and good-faith effort to address several aspects of the sources of contamination to the upstate reservoirs, including substantial reduction in the inputs and treatment of some of these contaminants before distribution of the water to NYC residents.
New Treatment Works
NRC (2000) prioritized the contaminants of concern for the water supply as microbial pathogens, organic precursors of disinfection byproducts (DBPs), the nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen, and turbidity and sediment. In response to the expected requirements of new regulations, in 2012 the NYC DEP completed an ultraviolet (UV) disinfection plant downstream of Kensico Reservoir that now treats all water from the Catskill/Delaware system. This plant has effectively reduced the threat of microbial pathogens, such that they are no longer the highest priority threat to the drinking water, in terms of complying with the Surface Water Treatment Rule (SWTR, the primary set of regulations for drinking water that derives from surface water). The threat of microbial contamination is never completely eliminated, however, so efforts to reduce controllable sources of such contamination must be ongoing. Livestock and septic systems in or near the various tributaries to the reservoirs remain significant potential sources of microbial contamination.
In addition to the UV plant, NYC DEP built the Croton filtration plant that treats all water from that portion of the system.3 NYC DEP is considering further enhancements to the entire system, including treatment options, water conveyance structures throughout the system, and watershed protection efforts both east and west of the Hudson River.
The construction of several state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plants has substantially reduced the loading of phosphorus (and other contaminants) to the reservoirs from towns in the watershed, and the reservoir monitoring data confirm that the phosphorus concentration in the reservoirs has decreased substantially as a result (Chapter 4 provides details on this issue). Reducing nutrient inputs to the reservoirs helps prevent algal blooms, which would increase the organic content of the water supply and thus increase the risk of violating the SWTR rules for DBPs4 and turbidity. However, NRC (2000) recommended that aerobic septic systems be installed throughout the watershed during replacement activities, which has not generally occurred. Septic systems in the watershed, particularly those near streams, remain a potential source of contaminants from human and household water use, including organic matter, pathogenic microorganisms, and nutrients.
Advanced Analysis-Based Operations and Modeling
High-turbidity events in the reservoirs, particularly in Ashokan Reservoir, are primarily caused by major storms. While nothing can be done to avert such storms, which may become more frequent, NYC DEP has invested substantially during the last 20 years to reduce their impact in terms of turbidity entering the terminal Kensico Reservoir. Perhaps most importantly among many activities, they have invested in and developed an extensive Operations Support Tool (OST)—a combined water routing and water quality model that enhances the operational capability of the entire water supply to avoid excessive turbidity entering the distribution
3 Recent taste and odor issues in treated Croton water point out the need to consider customer expectations and satisfaction, as well as minimum regulatory requirements, in the design and operation of water system components.
4 Halogenated DBPs, some of which are regulated, are formed by reactions of the natural organic matter and chlorine used as a disinfectant.
system. This tool was the subject of another recent National Academies report (NASEM, 2018). NYC DEP has also initiated a Stream Management Program, discussed in Chapter 6, to address hot spots of turbidity in the Catskill system.
The 2000 report repeatedly addressed the use of modeling within the Watershed Protection Program, such as the recommendation that NYC DEP develop models to link phosphorus concentrations to DBP precursors. It is a goal of NYC DEP to configure OST to model DBP precursors, because no such capability exists currently. As indicated in a new analysis of reservoir data done by this Committee and shown in Chapter 4, nutrients, and particularly phosphorus, are a major concern for the drinking water supply. The critical linkage between phosphorus and the production of DBP precursors should become a higher priority of the NYC DEP modeling team, given the possibility of a DBP violation. More generally, for the watershed and water quality models used by NYC DEP to fill the needs of effective watershed protection, there needs to be more feedback between the observational record and model outputs. NYC DEP has strongly embraced the use of modeling to support short-term management actions (hours to months) but has been less effective in integrating modeling in support of longer-term strategic watershed protection actions (years to decades).
Active Disease Surveillance and Risk Reduction
Chapter 11 of this report details the significant efforts of the NYC DEP to assess in real time whether a disease outbreak is occurring anywhere in the service area; that work is impressive and has resulted in no outbreaks being identified as caused by the water supply in the last 20 years. Nevertheless, a few suggestions made in the 2000 report remain important to address. First, the suggestion to determine (or estimate) the lowest incidence of disease that can be detected by the current outbreak detection program has not been undertaken; such a determination would allow a better assessment of whether the effort currently used is adequate. This suggestion is still highly relevant; without such an assessment, one cannot help but wonder if the lack of reported outbreaks caused by drinking water is due to an inadequate surveillance system or to consistently excellent water quality or both factors. The earlier committee also suggested conducting additional epidemiological studies to determine the role of tap water as the etiologic agent in outbreaks of giardiasis and cryptosporidiosis, although the relevance and cost of such a study make this less important today than 20 years ago.
The 2000 report suggested developing the concept of risk reduction as a metric of overall program success and further suggested conducting regular microbial risk assessments, neither of which has occurred. The rationale of the NYC DEP appears to be that the current level of monitoring for microbial pathogens (throughout the reservoir system as well as in the distribution system) and the active disease surveillance program provide sufficient protection of public health. As discussed in Chapter 11, a periodic risk assessment would enhance current efforts and would help delineate “hot spots” within the system where remedial action could result in reduced risk to the population.
Stakeholder Cooperation and the Land Acquisition Program
The 2000 report lauded the overall concept of the MOA, which balances the needs for water rules and regulations to protect water quality with the idea of enhancing community vitality. Twenty years of cooperative experience between the NYC DEP and upstate communities has shown that both goals can be met. Although the two goals often engender an intrinsic tension, good-faith negotiation and an understanding of the needs of all parties has generally led to compromises with good outcomes. So, the praise of the 2000 report certainly holds true today, even if the challenge remains to maintain and enhance both goals. Unlike the 2000 report, this report devotes a chapter (Chapter 13) to the need for establishing metrics of community vitality throughout the Watershed Protection Program.
One program that continues to create friction between NYC DEP and watershed residents and municipalities is the Land Acquisition Program. The 2000 Committee recommended lowering the required size limits on parcels, creating a local land trust because some homeowners might be unwilling to cede their land to the NYC
Continuing Challenge of Nonpoint Source Pollution
The 2000 Committee focused on nonpoint sources of phosphorus and other contaminants to the reservoirs, including from agriculture, stormwater, and septic systems. At the time of that report, phosphorus Total maximum daily loads had been created for Cannonsville Reservoir, NYC DEP was considering a phosphorus offset program, and the specter of antidegradation lawsuits loomed large (the antidegradation concept embedded in the Clean Water Act limits the water quality deterioration of surface waterbodies). As part of these efforts, NYC DEP set a goal for phosphorus concentration of less than 15 mg/L at all times in the reservoirs—a goal that has been achieved in about half of the years since 2005 (see Chapter 4).
In 2000, the Committee recommended that the Watershed Agricultural Program set a scientifically based phosphorus load reduction level that will achieve the desired phosphorus concentration in the reservoirs, using their vast trove of data on soil phosphorus and application rates of phosphorus to the land. Chapter 5 of this report includes a new analysis, by this Committee, of this valuable data set that has accrued over the past 20 years, offering a glimpse into the effectiveness of the Watershed Agricultural Program. As for the Stormwater Program, the 2000 report acknowledged that structural stormwater control measures (SCMs) are only moderately effective and encouraged the use of nonstructural SCMs, along with performance monitoring of both types of SCMs. Much has changed in the stormwater field since that time, and the current analysis in Chapter 9 builds on the new knowledge available about the types of SCMs that have gained traction and their known effectiveness. For both stormwater and agriculture, this report lauds the use of paired watershed studies to assess the overall impacts of control measures and practices on water quality.
Over the past 20 years, the Watershed Protection Program has grown and evolved to encompass new challenges and to customize its individual subprograms. For example, the Land Acquisition Program now has eight individual subprograms that target specific land and water conditions and property types, where it was originally only a single voluntary program between willing buyers and sellers in the watershed. However, while it has been easy for NYC DEP to add new programs to their portfolio, it has been more difficult to end some programs once they have become established. Nonetheless, the overall program budget has remained steady at approximately $100 million per year5 for the last 20 years despite some of the programs being mature or even phased out (such as the Catskill Turbidity Control Study) (K. Kane, NYC DEP, personal communication, 2020).
This report begins with three introductory chapters that provide context for understanding NYC’s Watershed Protection Program. Chapter 2 discusses the physical, ecological, historical, and cultural antecedents in the NYC watershed region. This chapter illustrates that the NYC watershed region has undergone many human-made changes for centuries and has not been pristine forestland since well before European colonization. Chapter 3 reviews the massive, complex, and flexible NYC water supply system with source areas in the upstate Catskill, Delaware, and Croton watersheds. It also discusses the laws, regulations, and policies that guide the provision of safe water to NYC from these watersheds, including the unique agreement between the state and federal regulators, the City, and upstate communities that allows NYC’s water supply to remain largely unfiltered. Chapter 4, the final introductory chapter, discusses present threats to the NYC water supply, which have evolved over the last 20 years since the previous National Academies’ review, although the primary pollutants of concern remain the same.
Chapter 5 is the first of eight chapters that cover different program areas within NYC’s Watershed Protection Program, organized according to Table 1-1. All of these chapters describe their respective program area, demonstrate the extent to which the program is meant to achieve specific objectives of the MOA, discuss the programs’ effectiveness to meet these objectives as well as a variety of other metrics, and provide constructive criticism of the programs, including conclusions and recommendations. Chapter 5 discusses the Watershed Agricultural Program, Chapter 6 is about the Stream Management Program, Chapter 7 examines land management, including the Land Acquisition Program, and Chapter 8 discusses wastewater programs. These four programs are the largest elements of the Watershed Protection Program in terms of past and future funding. Chapters 9, 10, and 11 review stormwater programs, ecosystem programs including forestry, and programs that protect public health, respectively. Chapter 12 reviews the monitoring and modeling programs of the NYC DEP intended to support the Watershed Protection Program, while Chapter 13 discusses measures of community vitality that might be made a more integral, quantitative part of the Watershed Protection Program. The report concludes with Chapter 14, which addresses overarching issues such as the balance among programs, future directions for the Watershed Protection Program (and the water supply), and the importance of better coordination among programs. Each chapter ends with conclusions and recommendations that synthesize more technical and specific statements in the body of each chapter. The most important conclusions and recommendations from Chapters 2 through 14 are compiled in the Summary.
The data and information gathered by the Committee to support its conclusions and recommendations came from a wide variety of sources: the primary and secondary literature; detailed data and information requests to the NYC DEP and other Watershed Protection Program participants; formal presentations made to the Committee; open-mic sessions at Committee meetings where the public was invited to share their thoughts; written comments submitted to the Committee; and countless conference calls. With respect to in-person engagements, the Committee held four formal public meetings in the watershed region, each accompanied by full-day field trips to observe various watershed protection programs in action, including the Watershed Agricultural Program (twice), the Stream Management Program (twice), and the wastewater programs. Public participation grew from 45 attendees at Meeting 1 (Saugerties, NY, September 2018) to 89 attendees at Meeting 4 (Hunter, NY, May 2019). The Committee visited most of the reservoirs and waterworks in the Catskill/Delaware system, including Kensico and Hillview reservoirs and the UV disinfection facility. Two other extended trips were made to the West-of-Hudson watershed region to learn more about the Watershed Forestry Program and forest products industry and to observe public outreach by the Stream Management Program. At the Committee’s request, two special meetings were organized and hosted (including the agendas and visit schedules) by the Catskill Watershed Corporation; the Delaware County Board of Supervisors; the Delaware County Planning, Economic Development, Public Works, and Watershed Affairs Departments; and the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce. These extensive, face-to-face interactions over a two-year period provided invaluable insights into the perspectives of watershed residents and enhanced the Committee’s understanding of the MOA and the Watershed Protection Program. They fostered a thorough understanding of the complex challenges and opportunities noted by residents, business owners, elected representatives, local government departments, nongovernmental organizations, NYC DEP, NYS DOH, and EPA. In sum, the Committee was proactive in seeking the comprehensive information needed to address the Statement of Task (Box 1-1).
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