Mission Statement

The Coalition strives to protect and improve the waters of NYC's Croton Watershed as well as all New York State watersheds. We are an alliance of individuals and groups who believe that safe, clean and affordable drinking water is a basic human right.

 

OUR COALITION AND THE ISSUES WE FACE

Who We Are
The Croton Watershed Clean Water Coalition, Inc., was formed in 1997, as a 501(c)(3) organization, with the primary goal of preventing the construction, by NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), of a massive, costly chemical treatment/filtration plant for Croton water. With high quality source water such as the Croton, the membership agreed that it would be far more effective and far less costly to protect the water at its source rather than indulge in a huge engineering project that would also require expensive future maintenance.

We comprise over 50 member groups – housing, community, environmental and religious – throughout NYC, Westchester and Putnam Counties.

The New York City Water Supply
New York City’s watershed, that supplies NYC and environs with over one billion gallons per day, covers an area close to 2000 square miles both East of Hudson (EOH) and West of Hudson (WHO). The Catskill and Delaware (Cat/Del) systems that lie mostly WOH together normally supply 90% of the water. However, their aqueducts also carry water into EOH reservoirs, most notably the Kensico, the West Branch and Boyd Corners which are considered part of the Cat/Del system.

Croton reservoirs are all EOH, in the Croton Watershed that is located in northern Westchester county, the eastern portion of Putnam county and a small portion of Connecticut.

These watersheds are shown on the maps under Resources.

Croton reservoirs normally supply 10% of NYC’s needs, and up to 30% in times of drought.

The three systems supply high quality, still unfiltered drinking water for over 9 million people, over half the population of NYS.

Why is the Croton System to be Chemically Treated and Filtered?
Back in 1992, when the DEP could still have applied for filtration avoidance for the Croton, it failed to do so, not because the water was below standard (it wasn’t) but because the DEP, in its own words, lacked the “political will” to protect the Croton watershed.

Subsequent compromises that led to the landmark 1997 Watershed Agreement allowed the DEP to institute a long-range program to protect its huge, still unfiltered Cat/Del system, thereby avoiding having to build an $8 billion chemical treatment/filtration plant. But the sacrificial lamb was the much smaller Croton system that, at the insistence of the development community, was slated to be filtered. Filtration, we were told, would be effective in cleaning up the pollution caused by the upcoming juggernaut of development in the Croton watershed.

DEP’s failure to apply for filtration avoidance for its Croton system has resulted in a Consent Decree issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the NYS Department of Health (DOH) to filter its Croton system by May, 2012.

Originally estimated at about $800 million, the cost of the plant has skyrocketed to $2.8 billion as of the end of 2007.

CWCWC’s Role in Trying to Prevent Filtration
CWCWC’s fears that filtration would mean less protection for the watershed have, unfortunately, been amply justified, despite EPA’s assurances of a multi-barrier approach to watershed protection. Ten years after the 1997 signing of the Watershed Agreement, DEP has only acquired about 1,600 acres in the Croton Watershed in contrast to the well over 3,000 acres controlled by developers. As a result, the once excellent water quality in the Croton has been decreasing, and phosphorus levels, the pollutant of most concern, have been rising in the reservoirs.

CWCWC challenged, in the courts, DEP’s proposal to build the chemical/treatmnt filtration plant to treat Croton water. We opposed the method that DEP proposed to use that resulted in their having to dig a 100-foot hole with an 8-acre surface area in order to finally “hide” the plant. This has taken place in a particularly vulnerable area of Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, resulting in the destruction of hundreds of century-old hardwood trees and the deprivation of much-needed park-space for the local neighborhood (click on Watershed Tour to see the pictures).

CWCWC fought the filtration plant all the way to the NYS Court of Appeals – and lost. During that process, CWCWC also argued that DEP should be using the most effective and modern water treatment technology available, namely membrane filtration, rather than DEP’s Dissolved Air Flotation with Filtration (DAF/F). Membrane filtration has become the method of choice worldwide, and is far more effective at removing pollutants, is far less costly, and has a far smaller footprint than DAF/F. Unfortunately, DEP refused to change course, and the courts deferred to DEP.

CWCWC’s Role in Protecting the Croton Watershed
CWCWC continues to protect vigorously the Croton watershed’s streams, wetlands and reservoirs despite the fact that the water treatment plant is being built. There are several reasons.

One is that the further the raw water reaching the plant is allowed to degrade, the more expensive it becomes to restore it to potable levels.

The second is that Croton watershed residents depend largely on local well water. Although the following fact is often overlooked, surface water and the groundwater that feeds the wells can be intimately connected. In many cases, groundwater provides the baseflow for nearby streams. But the reverse can also takes place: pollutants entering the streams or other surface water can end up in the local wells.

CWCWCs protection efforts have taken several forms.

  • On the regulatory level, we were successful in having then Governor Pataki and the NY branch of the Army Corps of Engineers declare the whole East of Hudson watershed to be designated Critical Resource Waters, a designation that gives streams, lakes, wetlands and reservoirs a significant added layer of protection.
  • We continue to oppose developments that could be harmful to water quality by actively participating in the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process and, when necessary, taking developers to court. A list of ongoing developments in which we are active may be viewed under Issues.
  • Through our bimonthly newsletter and this website, we try to educate watershed and NYC residents about water quality issues that can affect both their health and their pocketbooks.
  • We have developed powerpoints suitable for different groups including high school level, local town officials and various environmental groups. We have given numerous presentations all over the watershed and in NYC.
  • Finally, we have conducted and continue to conduct bio-monitoring of streams both in Putnam and Westchester counties. We have selected streams that were threatened by nearby development.

 

CWCWC’s Involvement in Water Issues Beyond the Croton

The need for CWCWC’s involvement with water issues beyond the Croton Watershed has become evident as municipalities in Westchester and Putnam Counties increasingly draw their drinking water from the West of Hudson (WOH) Catskill and Delaware watersheds via the Catskill and Delaware aqueducts. In the meantime, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has closed, for maintenance and repairs, the New Croton Aqueduct that carries water from the Putnam and Westchester counties to the Jerome Park Reservoir in the Bronx and from there, into New York City.

The cost of the Croton Water Filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park has skyrocketed to $3.2 billion from an original estimate of roughly $900 million, resulting in a substantial increases in water rates for both NYC and Westchester County ratepayers. The plant is scheduled to go on-line in 2013 from an original target date of May, 2012. DEP’s concern is to have the filtration plant and the aqueduct ready for use when the Delaware Aqueduct is closed down for long overdue repairs for serious leaks.

DEP’s judicious acquisition of land in the Catskill and Delaware watershed, and other measures to protect water quality (see 1997 Memorandum of Agreement) have won NYC a Filtration Avoidance Determination from EPA. A filtration plant for Catskill/Delaware water could easily cost NYC over $10 billion.

For the many East of Hudson (EOH) municipalities that rely on the Catskill/Delaware watershed for their drinking water, it is vital that this water should be of the highest quality.

Now, this uniquely high-quality water, as well as water quality in other areas in NYS, is being threatened by the possibility of high-volume hydrofracturing with a horizontal component (HVHF or fracking). Very briefly, fracking involves drilling into the shale rock that contains the natural gas. This hard rock layer can lie at several thousand feet beneath the surface, and extend in a horizontal layer a few hundred feet thick. In order to achieve maximum extraction, the drill well is turned horizontally into the layer and extended as far as possible – one mile or more. Holes are created in the well siding. Then water laced with chemicals and sand is injected down the well at explosively high pressures - up to 15,000 pounds per square inch (psi) – in order to further open up the shale fissures and extract some of the gas (for more details, please go to “Gas Drilling” on our navigation bar)

In NYS, this natural gas-bearing rock is contained in the Marcellus and Utica shales that underlie NYS’s southern tier. Although fracking has been prohibited in both the NYC and Syracuse watersheds, this has not prevented the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), in its Draft Supplemental Generic EIS, DSGEIS, (September 11, 2011) from permitting HVHF as close as 4,000 feet from the perimeter of those watersheds. This will endanger the water carried by those NYC aqueducts that lie within easy access of fracking fluids – known to contain carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting chemicals, among others – since many of these aqueducts and their connections are aging, and already leaking. Infiltration of these dangerous chemicals into the drinking water carried by these aqueducts is an eventual certainty. Let’s not forget that 19 million people, over half the population of NYS, depend on these waters. NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is demanding a reasonable 7-mile setback from the perimeter of its Catskill/Delaware watersheds.

In the afore-mentioned DSGEIS, DEC is proposing “safeguards” under which it would allow fracking in the Marcellus and Utica shales. These safeguards would still allow fracking within 85% – 8.5 million acres – of the shale area. The minimal setbacks from privately-owned wells, primary aquifers, and public drinking water supplies, and no required setbacks from principal aquifers, would result in fracking pads, connecting roads, and pipelines dominating the presently forested and agricultural landscape.

CWCWC continues to oppose HVHF anywhere in NYS’s Marcellus/Utica shales.; we have provided extensive written and verbal comments in opposition to fracking (all accessible on our website). We have stressed the fact that NYS shale contains high levels of radioactive material that decays into radon that mixes in with the natural gas that would eventually reach NYC kitchens; that the well pipes get coated inside and out with these materials and need replacing, and the problems of disposing of these radioactive materials. And we have also stressed the continuing field-work on the high levels of methane emissions where fracking occurs.

Of new concern is Pennsylvania and Ohio frack fluid (brine) being spread on NYS roads, as a means of disposal. Auburn, NY town board voted to rescind the prohibition to receive and treat frack fluid in its sewage treatment plant (STP) from out of state. Its effluent evacuates into a river that flows into the Owasco lake. And a faulty STP in Bay Park, Long Island is in need of upgrade, but instead is considering receipt and treatment by dilution of frack fluid. The chemicals kill the bacteria that break down human waste. Bay Park STP discharges into an inlet near Long Beach, putting many homes at risk.

CWCWC has also initiated a lawsuit opposing any fracking in NY State Forests. These forests were created specifically to provide clean water and recreation (and also, during the 1930s depression, to provide jobs planting trees). Fracking would be in outrageous contravention to their original intent. So far, surface drilling has been prohibited in these forests, but below surface drilling is still allowed. Since CWCWC obtained an important court ruling that the case is a constitutional issue, we shall question the constitutionality of below-surface drilling in the event that DEC starts to issue drilling permits.

 

CWCWC regards fracking in NYS’s Marcellus/Utica shales to be an existential issue. Fracking would radically alter the landscape in NYS’s southern tier from mostly forested and agricultural to heavily industrialized. It would mean losing the benefits, including the substantial economic benefits provided by forests, by good soils for agriculture, and open space for dairy farming, and replacing them by a landscape heavily encumbered by impervious, 5-acre minimum, drill pads; hastily-built access roads; compressor stations, and a network of pipelines. The clean water provided by the forests would be contaminated by runoff from the hardened drill pads, and by sediment carried by runoff from the access roads under the burden of hundreds to thousands of trucks bearing water and chemicals to the drill sites. The once-clean air would become polluted by methane escaping from the well-sites, and diesel fumes from the trucks. In short, the landscape would be unrecognizable.

This is a choice that all New Yorkers, including our legislators, will have to make – whether to allow a boom and bust industry to exploit us like a colony, lining the pockets of a few, or sustain and expand the existing industries while, at the same time, pushing for non-carbon alternatives to meet our energy needs.

 

If you wish further information, please don’t hesitate to call our office at 914 234-6470.
Or you can reach us by email at crotonwshed@aol.com.

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