Catskill Watersheds

The Catskills – A Watershed for Millions of People

The Catskills is home to major watersheds that supply water to millions of people in New York City, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The New York City Watershed

The New York City watershed provides New York City and residents of Westchester, Putnam, Orange, and Ulster Counties with some of the finest, unfiltered drinking water in the world. Over 9 million people draw their water from the three reservoir systems that make up the New York City water supply. Water from the Catskill, Croton, and Delaware watershed basins, which are made up of 19 reservoirs and 3 controlled lakes with a total combined capacity of 580 billion gallons, flow through a network of over 6,000 miles of piping to their final destination in southern Westchester County and New York City. Amazingly, only 5% of the 1.4 billion gallons of water that pass through the aqueducts each day is pumped using electricity. The vast majority of the water flows by force of gravity alone, reducing the environmental impact of the system and saving New York taxpayers millions of dollars in electrical and maintenance costs.

The Status of Drilling in the New York City Watershed

The Department of Environmental Conservation published a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Study in September 2011. This is a revision of the draft published in 2009. Based on the advocacy efforts of Catskill Mountainkeeper and our many partners, drilling is now prohibited in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds; however, the DEC has failed to prohibit drilling around the infrastructure that brings the water from the watershed to New York City. This leaves the already shaky infrastructure susceptible to the vibrations and shaking from drilling activities which could result in fracking fluids and other contaminants migrating from drilling operations and entering the water tunnels through small cracks or fissures in the tunnel walls.

Delaware River Basin 

The Delaware River Basin is comprised of the 13,539 square-mile territory that stretches from New York’s Delaware County south to Delaware Bay and includes much of Sullivan County in New York State. It is governed by the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), a federal/interstate government agency responsible for managing its water resources.  The DRBC was created in 1961 to address regional water conflicts and to make sure that the water from the Delaware River is used fairly by each of the states. The DRBC is made up of representatives of the governors of four states (New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey) and Brig. Gen DeLuca from the Army Corps of Engineers, who acts as the President’s representative. Its stated mission is oversight of the Basin’s water quality and sources of pollution.

The Status of Drilling in the Delaware River Basin 

In February 2011, the DRBC issued draft regulations that would govern drilling for natural gas using hydrofracking in this incredibly environmentally sensitive area indicating a clear intention to green light unsafe drilling. They issued their draft despite an overwhelming number of pleas from the governmental and scientific sectors in addition to the public, not to do so. Included in these pleas were letters from Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg requesting that regulations not be released until the science from a planned cumulative impact study and the EPA study could be completed. Further, both officials have stated major concern that sections of the Delaware River Basin is part of the New York City Watershed and under the planned rules will not benefit from the same protection as it would under the New York State plan. The DRBC process is a separate and parallel activity from what is happening in Albany. Fracking could start in the Delaware River Basin regardless of what we achieve working with the New York State Government.

Gas drilling must not be allowed to pollute the waters of our pristine watersheds and turn them into industrial zones.

This is one more reason why based on extensive study and scientific evidence, Catskill Mountainkeeper has called for a ban on fracking. We are also working within the existing regulatory process in New York to raise critical issues, widen the discussion of the impacts of drilling, and expand the options available to protect the public.