The New Croton Reservoir — A Lesson For Long Island and the GSB

How does a picture of New Croton Reservoir in Westchester County relate to saving the Great South Bay?

New York City’s reservoirs are connected by giant underground cement straws to supply clean drinking water to that great city. The Croton reservoir system which is one of 3 New York City reservoir systems.

The Croton System
Located in Westchester, Putnam, and Dutchess Counties, the Croton system has 12 reservoirs and three controlled lakes. The largest, the New Croton Reservoir, can hold 19 billion gallons of water. The system normally supplies 10 percent of the City’s drinking water, but can supply more when there is a drought in the watersheds farther upstate.

The Catskill System
The Catskill system includes two reservoirs and supplies up to 40 percent of the City’s daily needs. The Catskill watershed is located in parts of Greene, Ulster, and Schoharie Counties, about 100 miles north of New York City and 35 miles west of the Hudson River.

The Delaware System
The Delaware system, in parts of Delaware, Ulster, and Sullivan Counties southwest of the Catskill watershed, includes four reservoirs which provide 50 percent of the City’s daily water needs. The largest is the Pepacton, which can hold over 140 billion gallons of water — more than the entire capacity of the Croton system.

My last posts discussed the low head dam at Lower Yaphank Lake. Dams and impoundments of rivers destroy habitat. New York City draws its clean water from these systems and protects the land around them by controlling close to a million of acres. What happenes to the river habitat? What happens with water quality management and fishery management for the species that can no long access their natural range?

The American Eel is a bellwether species for multiple habitats, it spawns at sea, it lives in bays and estuaries, and it travels up rivers. For example, the eel travels up the Missouri river to Montana. Seventy-five percent of the American eel’s habitat has been cut off by human activities. Unfortunately, the eel’s wonderfully fatty flesh absorbs contaminates that closely reflect the sediments of its habitat in this way it reflects man’s failure to protect the aquatic environment. Most people think the eel is just a slimy snake-like fish thing from muddy bottoms but it is considered a delicacy in other places around the world. We love the taste of the candied eel that is “Unagi” at the sushi bar and smoked eel is still a super bowl tradition on Long Island, pet eels were kept in Rome as far back as 96bc. We have made it very difficult for this species to survive, it’s not over-fishing it’s habitat loss, degradation of bays and estuaries and physical blocking of access to the eel’s natural range.

We look at habitat in terms of the species we care about or that have commercial value but in so many cases in our bays and rivers it is the invertebrate communities that provide the forage base for the species we are interested in protecting. In the Great South Bay, hard clams are an anchor species because the stabilization they create in muddy sediment and waste they deposit creates a foundation for a specialized co-evolved invertebrate community. In this way the clam bed supports a diverse community of organisms that is a subtidal center of life in a bay it is essential fish habitat. The healthy river bottom is the same the eel and the trout are not the anchor species it is the health of co-evolved invertebrate/bacterial communities with associated that provides a forage base for finfish species without which they cannot thrive. Where possible we should strive to support these habitats in their most natural state. You can have all the shellfish and trout hatcheries you want but the natural habitat must support the essential organism at the base.

State, city and local governments can appease some fishermen with recreational opportunities to catch a few fish. New Croton Reservoir has fish but the potential to restore habit has been pathetically ignored. I would argue that the same is true for Long Island’s rivers. NYC makes huge investments acquiring land to protect water quality I wish I could say the same for the discharges of raw sewage that take place in wet weather when the city’s sewer system lets go through its combine sewer overflow regulators ever on the Hudson and East River shores of Manhattan. Long Island’s rivers are a public trust resource that can be restored. It is a mistake to believe that restoration would lower property values it would increase them. A lot of fuss is made about stakeholders, the people at large are the stakeholders and their position is not less valid than that of property owners around the river. We should look at the species that depend on the habitat as the stake holders. Restoring habitat to its most natural state is the surest path to enhancing the value of the surrounding property.      


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