Water Wars: What’s Up With The Upstate-Downstate Debate?


The Times reports today on the “slow boil” over water issues now playing out between Upstate communities and New York City. Ulster County, for example, has been pissed at the City for years. The county says that it’s unfairly had to endure “development bans, flooded basements and ruined crops” just to protect NYC’s water supply.

Delaware County also approved a resolution demanding reparations from the City and Albany. The claim is that hydrofracking restrictions — intended to protect NYC’s water supply — prevent the county’s residents from making money off their own land.

But complaints have come a crux lately, as Catskills and Delaware River-area residents said that the City’s water managers were wrong in dumping turbid water into locals’ favorite creek. One local official, according to the Times, even compared the city’s policies to “an occupying nation.”

Last year, water managers diverted sediment-heavy water into the creek — a tributary vital for recreation and agriculture — to prevent a swollen reservoir from taking on more water. Now, many want the City to compensate for losses associated with this decision.

An environmental advocacy group, in fact, told the Times that the problem could have been avoided with better planning, research and development.

But is this the case? While officials at the Department of Environmental Protection have largely blamed mother nature — and to be clear, we’re neither siding with the DEP nor water advocates — the region did experience higher-than-normal rainfall for the past two years, a meteorological mechanism that tends to mess up water management plans.

Check it out: The Catskill watershed has a lot of clay deposits, remnants of a glacial period. Now, when something big like a hurricane or tropical storm happens, this can churn up the mud in creeks and foster erosion.

This doesn’t sound like a big problem, but drinking water can’t come from a super-turbid source (it’s against state and federal guidelines). That’s because it’s harder to disinfect turbid water.

So, some of this water got diverted to the creek. And it does suck that this resulted in agricultural and recreational losses.

But the geology of the region makes it difficult to point fingers, since preventing a natural phenomenon like erosion is tricky.

The DEP — which has since agreed to an environmental analysis of the rerouting — tells Runnin’ Scared that it’s trying to restore area stream beds, so that this doesn’t happen as often.

To do so, the Department is placing rocks on the bottom of stream beds. The basic idea is that rocks will hold down the clay deposits, so that the water can’t get to the clay and become polluted with sediment.

Runnin’ Scared has reached out to Riverkeeper, an organization which has been critical of the DEP’s practices. We’ll update when we speak to the official handling this issue.

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