Mile No. 2: NYC Watershed

WS-WOH-mapThe first clue I had that the Delaware was not as simple as I thought (OK, pause here to consider how is it possible I thought ANY river was simple!) was the New York City water supply thing.

Now, I did know that NYC had reservoirs in Delaware, Ulster and Sullivan counties — what is called “upstate” by the city folks. But I really only had a faint notion of where the water in those reservoirs came from, how much they held or how it got to the city. For more on this, check out New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection

Some facts and figures here. Time to get your math hat on.

The 9 million people in the New York City area use over 1 billion gallons of water every day. Hard to wrap your head around a figure like a billion.

Well, if you wanted to have a pool in your backyard that contained a mere million gallons, you’d have to have a pretty big yard. It would be about as long as a football field, 50 feet wide and 10 feet deep (Thanks to the USGS for giving me this image.)

That’s one million, so multiply that by 1,000.

1,000,000 x 1,000 = 1,000,000,000

That’s a lot of football fields!

The six reservoirs west of the Hudson supply as much as 90% of the city’s drinking water. The Delaware system’s four reservoirs on their own, supply more than half of the city’s drinking water — that would be half a billion gallons or 50 million gallons. The Delaware system consists of four reservoirs: the Cannonsville, the Pepacton, the Neversink and the Roundout. The first three “take” water from the Delaware, or more precisely, from rivers that become the Delaware.

Whether that “taking” is good or not, that’s hotly debated in some quarters. What can’t be denied is that the water system is really an engineering marvel. Most of it is gravity fed, with the waters flowing from reservoirs to collection points, and then through yet more tunnels under the Hudson. But back to the Delaware River.

The Cannonsville — 95.7 billion gallons — is filled by the West Branch of the Delaware River, and the Pepacton — 140.2 gallons —  is filled by the East Branch of the Delaware. Not very imaginative names for the beginnings of my favorite river, I know.

The Delaware doesn’t “become” the Delaware River until those two branches meet in Hancock, N.Y. which is after the reservoirs.

Here’s an odd thing. When some folks write about the Delaware they write that it is one of the largest undammed rivers in the US. But that’s only if you don’t count the reservoirs that NYC built, and if you don’t count the rivers that fill those reservoirs as part of the Delaware itself. Your call.

Anyway, the third reservoir is the Neversink, which holds 34.9 billion gallons — it is filled by the Neversink River, which itself flows into the Delaware in Port Jervis, N.Y..

Hidden away, under the thrum of traffic from I-84, at the far end of Laurel Grove Cemetery in Port Jervis N.Y. the monument that marks the intersection of three states: New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. You can see the Delaware, and behind you is the Neversink River.
The specific site of the boundaries of three states. It’s a little closer to the river down about 25 feet from the tall monument, which is far more visible. Recent renovations to the site include a couple of parking spaces, and it’s far less overgrown.

By the way, there’s a cool spot in Port Jervis, at the southern end of the Laurel Grove Cemetery, where New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania meet. Not very celebrated, it lies in the shadow of I-84, where I-84 crosses the Delaware. But as you can see, you can step on the three states with one foot!

Anyway. One could argue that New York City took advantage of its position in New York State to “grab” the water it needed — though it’s also true that NYC really did need that water. Reminds me of the various pipeline wars — OK — disputes we’re having today about what sorts of benefits/ detriments there are for landowners/residents when gas or oil is piped through sparsely settled areas (or even densely populated areas) for the benefit of more densely populated areas far away. Do the needs of the many outweigh the rights of the few? And with specific reference to these gas pipelines, should the government align itself with commercial interests that will make money off the contents of those pipelines? But folks in those cities like to drive their cars and be warm in winter just as much as I do.

With these waters, there are lots of questions we’ll be returning to.

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