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- Water, its quality, its preservation and its ownership, has been much on the minds of Catskill Mountain residents these last few years. That is why I reprinted this book. When someone from the Department of Environmental Conservation read my prologue, they told me it would be in the best interests of everyone if New York City's land use restrictions were enacted.
They said, " ...we must try to see to it that the utilization of our resources is fully (and unconditionally) sustainable."
How could anyone disagree with that? I told them that if they were talking about New York State or the Northeast, fine, I agree . . . but if they were just talking about NYC's water supply, than it was politics and money they were concerned with, not the environment.
Anyway, here's the prologue that generated an editorial instead of a review of the book. I hope you enjoy it.
Water For New York City
- Now that the City of New York is considering the enactment of controversial land use regulations in the Catskill watershed as one option to preserve the quality of its water supply, the time is right to review the history of Manhattan's water sources.
Abundant clean water has been critical to the development of New York City, more than to other cities, because the quality and quantity of water needed has always been difficult to provide. Certainly Manhattan island must have seemed the ideal site for a city by the first settlers, surrounded as it is by water, and with ample springs and streams. But the rivers are salty, and as the population grew, the freshwater was soon polluted (a not uncommon occurrence). The result was that the water from most of the wells was not fit to drink and outbreaks of cholera were frequent. Early on, it was obvious that nature needed help if an adequate supply of fresh water was to be maintained.
Over the years, endless schemes and grand constructions were proposed to provide potable drinking water and water for fire prevention for the residents. From damming the Hudson near its mouth to produce power to pump fresh water from the Bronx, to building an aqueduct to bring water over from the Delaware River, private individuals of various capabilities have tried to get rich on the city's water needs. Even the well-known feud between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, which led to their infamous duel, was fueled by Burr's involvement in the Manhattan Water Company. In fact, all sorts of political chicanery and connivances appear with even a casual glance at New York's water history.
Good things happened also. Advanced thinking and brilliant engineering combined at times to further Manhattan's growth by providing fresh water to the inhabitants. Wells were dug, reservoirs were built and pumps and pipe were installed, all by private individuals with an eye towards profit and the betterment of the community. But it wasn't until the city fathers formed a municipal water board to fund the idea of tapping the huge water resources of the Catskill Mountains and deliver it via aqueduct to Manhattan that the solution was at hand. Thus, the Catskill Aqueduct, an engineering feat unequaled in its time, was constructed.
This book, written in 1917, is a 300 year history of the water needs of New York City and the successes (and failures!) of the attempts to provide an adequate water supply for a burgeoning international business center with a population in the millions. As part of this history, the original fire protection plans are discussed and the establishment of the New York City Fire Department is outlined. The location, construction and, in one instance, destruction of the reservoirs is detailed, including how the workers were cared for, how many residents were displaced and how they were compensated. This information will give the reader an historical perspective of the machinations behind New York City's drive towards securing a pure water supply.
Ideally, in an era of proposed public works projects and Federal job stimulus plans, New York City will see the wisdom of bolstering its moribund construction industry and build a water purification plant (funded in part by adequate measuring and charging for water usage) and not proceed with the plan to further undermine the rights of the landowner in the Catskill Mountains. But, whether it is the people of New York City who pay, or the people living within the watershed who are forced to pay for a resource they cannot use, the results will be the same...New York City will have the pure water it needs to continue to grow.
Belongs next to "Last of the Handmade Dams", this is the 300 year history of NYC's water resources culminating in the construction of the Catskill Aqueduct and the Ashokan Reservoir. As important now as in 1917. 5.5x8.5 124 pages Paperback $12.50
by Wendell Tripp, editor of the quarterly
(The Italics are my own)
- Edward Hagaman Hall published his study of the Catskill Aqueduct, from which this volume is excerpted, in 1917. He begins with a discussion of the earliest sources of water on Manhattan Island and the efforts, as the city grew, to provide fresh water from distant sources. He includes the efforts of Christopher Colles, the Manhattan company of 1799 and other projects that brought water to a city then confined to the southern tip of Manhattan, and he provides detailed information on the vast Croton project, which began in 1837, and served Manhattan for many years. He also discusses sources of water for the other boroughs. But it is the Catskill Aqueduct project, completed shortly before his study, that is most absorbing. This vast conduit brought water 125 miles from several Catskill region watersheds to New York City. Hall discusses its engineering, methods of construction, the workers who built it, and the people who were displaced by it, as well as the governmental measures that brought it to life. The system has expanded since 1917, and many more upstate valleys have been flooded. More recently, federal and state clean water acts have compelled the city to decide between building a plant to purify its water or utilizing state law to protect the system from the insults of upstate residents.
Richard Frisbie couches the upstate view in the concluding paragraph of his 1993 prologue when he expresses the hope that New York City "will see the wisdom of bolstering its moribund construction industry and build a water purification plant (funded in part by adequate measuring and charging for water usage) and not proceed with the plan to further undermine the rights of landowners in the Catskill Mountains. But, whether it is the people of New York City who pay, or the people living within the watershed who are forced to pay for a resource they cannot use, the results will be the same...New York City will have the pure water it needs to continue to grow."
So it will. In 1996 the city made it clear that it is not going to spend billions on a purifying plant; it entered into a regional agreement to prevent the malefic intrusion of local residents upon the water system. It is not yet clear whether the city is adequately measuring and charging for water usage.
End of review - Thank you Mr Tripp.
For other NYC Reservoir books see Last of the Handmade Dams and Beneath Pepacton Waters
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