New York City Watershed Management

Ashokan Reservoir, New York

New York City Watershed Management

Location: New York City/New York State, United States

Project owner: New York City Department of Environmental Protection

Project type: Drinking water and wastewater

Budget: $500 million-$1 billion

Project description: 
Ninety percent of the water needs of metropolitan New York City's 9 million users are served by the Catskill-Delaware reservoirs. Historically, this gravity-fed system relied on the purity of its source water, disinfected with chlorine, to provide high quality water without filtration. The Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, however, required that public drinking water supplies drawn from reservoirs be micro-filtered unless the source waters could be protected from microbial agents and chemical pollutants through watershed management. To qualify for a Filtration Avoidance Determination, in 1997 the city committed to spend $1 billion over a decade to remediate pollution sources and promote sustainable economic growth in the 1,800-square mile Catskill-Delaware watershed. In 2007, the FAD was extended until 2017 based on extensive monitoring that documented the effectiveness of the initiative.

How it satisfies the "triple bottom line" approach (economic environmental, social), including innovative aspects:
Economic: Taxpayers saved $3-5 billion by avoiding the need to construct filtration plants, at an estimated cost of $4-6 billion. A 1,000-page Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) , negotiated over a two-year period, resulted in a commitment by the city to implement a variety of projects to remediate pollution sources and promote sustainable economic growth within the watershed. The agreement was signed in 1997 by EPA, the state, the city, 46 watershed towns, and six environmental organizations, including Hudson Riverkeeper, which was influential in its development. The non-structural watershed management practices contemplated in the MOA were estimated to , cost $1 billion over the first 10 years. The approach required the use of a "market basket" of then-unproven technical, economic and legal strategies.
Environmental: Along with its watershed management approach, New York City implemented a demand management program that successfully reduced demand by almost one a half billion gallons per day (from 1.5 bgd in 1990 to 1.0 bgd in 2009) with a corresponding decrease in per capita demand from 187 to 125 gallons per day over the same time period. The program offered free leak detection and installation of water-saving plumbing devices such as showerheads, faucets, aerators, toilet tank displacement bags, and low-flow toilets. The watershed management agreement enabled the purchase and preservation of 108,000 acres of riparian habitat.
Social: Over a period of two years, the city negotiated with state and rural governments, environmental groups and other stakeholders to ensure community support and engagement. Under the terms of the agreement, the city has upgraded local sewage treatment plants and private septic systems. the Catskill Watershed Corporation, (established under the MOA ) promotes economic development through small grants and technical assistance to businesses located within the watershed.The agricultural community is engaged through the Watershed Agricultural Council, which promotes best practices to prevent runoff of chemicals or livestock wastes to local streams. Similarly, the Watershed Forestry Program promotes sensible management of public and private timberlands within the watershed.

Categories of innovation: Community and stakeholder engagement, resource management, water resources

Additional resources for information:

For more about this project: Caswell F. Holloway, Commissioner, New York City Department of Environmental Protection; (online form)

Submitted by: Dr. Rutherford H. Platt, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Date submitted: October 18, 2011


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