Physical Dimension: Water

Physical Dimension: Water


Water controls our climate and well being. In fact there would be no life on earth without water. Water is essential for energy production, irrigation and for most of our daily activities. Wildlife also is dependent on water. Therefore, water resources are vital for sustaining healthy ecosystems and human communities.

The Water Cycle


A watershed is an area that drains into a lake or river. It is an area of land that is bounded by topographic features and height of land that drains waters to a shared destination. It captures precipitation, filters and stores water and determines its release. A watershed is the lifeline of any settlement, town or city. Watersheds can be large or small. Every waterway has an associated watershed. Watersheds are usually delineated on a topographical map showing drainage patterns and major topographical features such as roadways. Water moves downstream in a watershed. Any activity that affects water quality or quantity has an important bearing on characteristics of the watershed at locations downstream. Therefore, everyone living or working within a watershed needs to cooperate to assure good watershed conditions.


All the water that we use comes from the watershed where we reside. For years, the Croton and Catskills-Delaware watersheds that provide drinking water to New York have been exemplified as a successfully managed, healthy watershed. These two reservoir systems are the life-support system for the millions that live in New York City. The two watersheds, together, produce 1.2 billion gallons of water daily. This water traditionally has been of such high quality that it was once said to have been sold almost akin to Perrier water. New York City avails of naturally filtered and purified water that channeled through a complex system of aqueducts and pipes to reach the city. The region is able to avail of free ecosystem services such a water filtration and purification because it has been able to maintain a healthy watershed so far.

However, the Croton reservoir is threatened and it is a cause for grave concern for the residents of the New York metropolitan area. The natural beauty of the watersheds, however, and their proximity to the metropolitan area has encouraged intensive land development close to the city.For example, since the Second World War, suburban encroachment in Westchester and Putnam counties has been the cause of serious degradation of the Croton reservoirs. Consequently, filters to treat the water produced in the Croton system are now required. Expected construction and annual operating costs are $600 million and $45 million, respectively. The Croton system produces only about 10 percent of the water consumed by New York City. If similar degradation were to occur in the more remote Catskill-Delaware system, and filters became necessary, the costs would be enormous. Construction could exceed $5.0 billion; annual operating costs would approximate $300 million. For the nine million consumers in New York City and Westchester County, failure of watershed management programs in upstate New York will mean having to bear the brunt of paying for filters in order to get water of equal or lesser purity.

Most of the polluting sources enter the watershed through wastes and run offs from the farms that lie within and adjoining the watershed. Preventing pollution from farms has a cost and for successful management of the watershed, water quality needs must be reconciled with the economic constraints and interests of the farmer. This requires coordinated planning by agricultural scientists, economists, agricultural engineers, veterinarians, ecologists, microbiologists, pest management specialists, and hydrologists who must combine their expertise. This integration of multiple scientific disciplines is absolutely essential especially within eco-sensitive zones such as the Croton and Catskills-Delaware watersheds.Understanding the links that interweave our fate with our watersheds and fulfilling our role, as the engaged environmentally aware citizen is essential to ensure a healthy ecosystem and therefore a healthy environment for us.

Some of the Institutions working to save the New York Bioscape''s Watershed s