A Big Step Forward for Esopus Creek Protections

Department of Environmental Conservation Requiring Additional Analysis Around Alternatives to Ashokan Reservoir Releases, their Drinking Water Impacts, and How Climate Change Will Affect Releases

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) announced today that it is sending the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) back to the drawing board for further analyze the adverse environmental and human impacts of muddy releases from the Ashokan Reservoir.

“Requiring further analysis is absolutely the right move,” said Kathy Nolan, Catskill Mountainkeeper’s Senior Research Director. “We need the strongest plan possible to address releases from the Ashokan Reservoir; one that explores all available options to prevent muddy water from harming streams and rivers, one that protects drinking water supplies, and one that mitigates challenges that the climate crisis is imposing on communities and waterways.”

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NYCDEP is in the process of applying to NYSDEC for a permit that includes releasing water from the Ashokan Reservoir into the Esopus Creek to reduce the danger of flooding and rid the reservoir of unwanted turbidity (suspended clay and sediments). Levels of turbidity in the Ashokan Reservoir and Esopus Creek waters have risen dramatically over the past decades. As part of its application process, NYCDEP completed a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) assessing the impacts of Ashokan releases and proposing measures to mitigate those impacts. Today’s decision from NYSDEC requires the City to prepare a supplemental document (SDEIS) to extend their analysis of alternatives, evaluate the types and frequency of releases, address impacts to downstream Hudson River communities’ drinking water supplies, and include the potential for the climate crisis to intensify impacts from releases.

“Mountainkeeper applauds NYSDEC for calling on NYCDEP to continue its analysis, and we appreciate the extra effort that NYCDEP must make to work with communities impacted by the releases. None of this work is easy, but it’s made easier by having great partners in state and city government,” said Nolan.

The Ashokan Reservoir has two basins, one to let sediment settle out over time, with muddier waters detained in that basin. For decades, NYCDEP has released clean water from the reservoir’s eastern basin to its drinking water customers, while frequently releasing much muddier water from the reservoir’s western basin downstream to the communities along the Lower Esopus (including Olivebridge, Marbletown, Town of Ulster, Saugerties, and Kingston) and finally into the Hudson River.

Catskill Mountainkeeper stands with the Lower Esopus communities concerned about impacts to the creek, as well as with seven municipalities that depend on the Hudson River just south of its confluence with the Esopus for their drinking water. Mountainkeeper’s staff testified on March 3, 2020, filed formal comments with NYSDEC in response to the DEIS on June 16, 2020, and engaged its supporters to draft and submit more than 450 comments in support of a more thorough environmental review.

Mountainkeeper will continue to engage in the process of reviewing and evaluating the NYDEP’s proposals in the hope that turbidity can be decreased and climate impacts managed effectively, resulting in releases from the Ashokan Reservoir of life-supporting, clean water to the Lower Esopus and communities downstream.

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