Victor Brunette and René H. Germain 1
New York City's (NYC) water supply system - consisting of the Croton, Catskill and Delaware watersheds - is the largest surface storage and supply system in the world, providing high-quality drinking water to nearly nine million consumers. Forests cover 75% of the 2000-square-mile watershed, with an estimated 75% of the forest area owned by approximately 20000 non-industrial private forestland (NIPF) owners. Worldwide, large cities and rural communities are striving to balance economic development and long-term prosperity with environmental quality and protection. The NYC Watershed is a high profile example of a working forested landscape seeking to meet this balance.
The paper gives a brief history of water supply for NYC, before looking at the current challenge - maintaining water quality and sustainable forests. To bring upstate and NYC interests together and forge a mutually beneficial solution, the Watershed Agricultural Council (WAC) was established in 1993. The Council promotes voluntary participation in agriculture Best Management Practices (BMPs) by landowners and farmers in the Watershed. WAC is a partnership between watershed farmers and the city created in an effort to balance pollution prevention, economic viability and public health concerns.
Based on WAC's successful partnerships - and the credibility of an Agriculture Program already in place since 1993 - the watershed forestry community organized a grassroots Forestry Task Force. In December 1996, the Task Force released policy recommendations that eventually served as a blueprint for the current Watershed Forestry Program (WFP). The WFP is a pollution-prevention program designed to minimize non-point source pollution related to forestry activities.
With funding by the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP) and United States Forest Service (USFS), the WFP is achieving its organizational goals through the following five programmes: Forest Management Planning on NIPF; Cost-share and Implementation of Forestry Best Management Practices; Education, Outreach, and Training for Loggers, Foresters and Landowners; Research and Demonstration including a Model Forest programme; and Economic Development for regional wood products businesses. The paper provides a synopsis of each programme.
New York City's (NYC) water supply system - consisting of the Croton, Catskill and Delaware watersheds - is the largest surface storage and supply system in the world, providing high quality drinking water to nearly nine million metropolitan consumers, or about half the population of New York State. Forests cover 75% of the 2,000-square-mile Watershed, with an estimated 75% of the forest area owned by approximately 20,000 nonindustrial private forestland (NIPF) owners (Watershed Forestry Task Force 1996). Worldwide, large cities and rural communities are striving to balance economic development and long-term prosperity with environmental quality and protection. The NYC Watershed is a high profile example of a working forested landscape seeking to meet this balance. Throughout most of the 20th Century, forestry and agricultural activities drove the Watershed economy and NYC residents benefited from among the purest sources of drinking water in the nation. As the 21st Century begins, changes in land use and development threaten the quality of NYC's water supply (NYC DEP 2002).
New York City has faced water supply issues - in terms of quality and quantity - since the Dutch first settled Manhattan Island. In 1667, Battery Park housed the City's first public well; for the next 150 years, NYC residents relied primarily on local groundwater from wells, ponds, and springs. As the population increased, sewage from cesspools, privies, and street drainage polluted wells and groundwater. Consequently, unsanitary conditions contributed to five successive yellow fever epidemics between 1795 and 1822 and outbreaks of cholera in 1832 and 1834. These diseases ultimately killed one-fifth of NYC's 200,000 residents. City officials explored several alternatives before selecting the Croton River in upstate Westchester County to supply water to New York (Weidner 1974; Frisbie 1993; Galusha 1999).
With the advent of iron pipes in 1837, New York began constructing its first successful public water supply system. Within five years, the City completed this major engineering feat, allowing Croton water to flow through a 60 km aqueduct into Manhattan. The new system provided 2,800,000 liters daily to a population of 300,000. Once NYC's population reached 3 million, officials looked west of the Hudson River to the Esopus River Valley in the Catskill Mountains, nearly 150 kilometers away.
Engineers completed the Ashokan Reservoir and Catskill aqueduct in 1915. They finished the remainder of the Catskill system in 1928, including construction of the Schoharie Reservoir and Shandaken Tunnel. When the rate of NYC water usage grew to 170 million liters daily in 1931, a landmark Supreme Court decision permitted NYC to augment its water supply from the headwaters of the Delaware River. The Delaware system was completed in phases between 1944 and 1967 and includes the Cannonsville, Pepacton, Neversink and Rondout reservoirs (Weidner 1974; Frisbie 1993; Galusha 1999; New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) 2002).
As construction of the reservoirs forced the relocation of entire upstate villages, NYC fostered animosity among the inhabitants of the rural communities in the Catskills. For example, in creating the Ashokan reservoir (20 km long and 60 miles around), 2,000 local residents and 1,000 second homeowners lost their dwellings. The projects also displaced stores, churches, cemeteries, gristmills and sawmills (Weidner 1974; Frisbie 1993). The history of the expansive watershed is also linked to a declining economy, due to the displacement of the rural population and the shrinking base of arable land.
In 1989, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgated the Surface Water Treatment Rule pursuant to the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1986. This federal mandate required all surface drinking water sources to meet certain criteria or be filtered. A new filtration plant would cost an estimated $US 9 billion in 2003, with an annual operating price tag of $US 350 million or $US 1 million per day. To avoid filtration, NYC released a draft watershed protection plan in September 1990 that included revised watershed regulations. The draft regulations sparked considerable opposition from local watershed communities, especially farmers, forestland owners, and the local forest industry. Those in opposition asserted that regulations would jeopardize their continued economic viability (Watershed Forestry Ad Hoc Task Force 1996). At the time, NYC needed to strike a balance between water quality protection and quality of life preservation for upstate residents. Reaching such a balance proved to be an enormous task.
To bring upstate and NYC interests together and forge a mutually beneficial solution, the Watershed Agricultural Council (WAC) was established in 1993. The Council promotes voluntary participation in agriculture Best Management Practices (BMPs) by landowners and farmers in the Watershed. WAC is a partnership between watershed farmers and the City created in an effort to balance pollution prevention, economic viability, and public health concerns.
Based on WAC's successful partnerships - and the credibility of an Agriculture Program already in place since 1993 - the watershed forestry community organized a grassroots Forestry Task Force. In December 1996, the Task Force released policy recommendations that eventually served as a blueprint for the current Watershed Forestry Program. First and foremost - due to the capacity of forest cover to reduce pollutant loadings, minimize soil erosion, and filter watershed runoff - forestry was identified as the preferred land use for water quality protection (Watershed Forest Ad Hoc Task Force 1996).
As the Agricultural and Forestry Programs gained momentum, relationships among the City, upstate residents, and government agencies solidified. The NYC Watershed Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) - signed in 1997 by NYC, State and Federal agencies, watershed communities and environmental groups - identified three key principles for protecting and maintaining the high quality of New York City's water supply:
The Watershed Forestry Program (WFP) is a pollution prevention program designed to minimize non-point source pollution related to forestry activities by promoting forest management planning and the implementation of BMPs on NIPF land within the Watershed. Studies have shown that while timber harvesting and conventional silvicultural activities are not major causes of water quality problems, forest roads, haul roads, skid trails and log landings have the potential to be serious sources of soil erosion, transport and sedimentation, affecting the siltation of adjacent receiving waters (Patric 1976; Swift 1984). Consequently, the implementation of BMPs is a central theme interwoven throughout the WFP programs. With funding by the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP) and United States Forest Service (USFS), the WFP is achieving its organizational goals through the following five programs: Forest Management Planning on NIPF; Cost-share and Implementation of Forestry Best Management Practices; Education, Outreach, and Training for Loggers, Foresters and Landowners; Research and Demonstration including a Model Forest program; and Economic Development for regional wood products businesses. The following provides a synopsis of each program.
Any landowner who owns a private property of at least 4 hectares of forestland within the New York City (NYC) watershed is eligible for participation in this cost-shared program. Landowners must submit a completed application that includes a property location map. A Forestry Committee approves individual acreages and funding amounts based on a priority given to those parcels located in proximity to NYC reservoirs or representing geographic diversity within the NYC watershed. The landowner selects a professional forester who is "Watershed Qualified" to write the forest management plan. All plans submitted to WAC are required to meet minimum specifications and are subject to the technical review and approval of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC). When plans are completed, the landowner is requested to complete an evaluation survey feedback form. During the past five years, the Watershed Forestry Program has completed 280 forest management plans, covering nearly 22,000 total hectares in the watershed, with another 80 plans in-progress, representing 5,000 hectares as of March 2003.
Because the implementation of forestry best management practices is a cornerstone of the Watershed Forestry Program's goal of protecting water quality through sound forestry, educating many of the individuals involved in stewardship is paramount. In addition to the Model Forest Program discussed in the following section, the Forestry Program partners with local extension and education agencies to provide workshops, hands-on training, and educational programs for timber harvesters, foresters, landowners, educators, and school children.
The Watershed Forestry Program promotes good forestry by training timber harvesters and foresters about practices that prevent non-point source pollution. Timber harvesters trained under the New York Logger Training Inc (NYLT) program are recognized through a certification process termed Trained Logger Certification (TLC). Courses offered include medical first aid, chainsaw safety, and forest ecology and silviculture. TLC holders are given priority when applying for grants under the roads, bridges and best practices programs offered by WFP. Over 150 loggers working in the Watershed have received TLC since the program began.
To reach the professional and technical foresters working in the region, the Watershed Forestry Program offers a "Watershed Qualified" curriculum throughout the year. The curriculum focuses on riparian management planning and includes classroom and field components. Foresters who complete the coursework gain "Watershed Qualified" status and are added to the Forestry Program's list that is distributed to landowners interested in developing a management plan.
Numerous programs offered by WAC/WFP focus on forest operations and activities (either for economic or recreation purposes). Funding agencies (NYCDEP and USFS) encourage good forest stewardship and the protection of soil and water resources. All partners recognize the need for proper access to forest lands for optimal forest management and encourage BMPs when forest roads and bridges have to be built. For example, loggers and landowners are invited to adopt one BMP portfolio which addresses issues of forest road construction and stream crossings. This program assists TLC timber harvesters working within the New York City Watershed with the loan and/or purchase of temporary haul and skidder bridges. As a result of this cost-shared program, loggers modify their stream crossing techniques through an increased use of temporary skidder and haul bridges to reduce sedimentation of water courses in the NYC Watersheds.
Initiated in 1997, the four Model Forests are the primary research and demonstration components of the Watershed Forestry Program. Given that the majority of Watershed forests are owned by private individuals facing many issues, the Watershed Forestry Program supports regional forestry research to ensure a better understanding of how water quality is affected by fragmentation, parcelization, silviculture practices, BMPs in road construction, stream crossings, wildlife management, population controls, and linkages among forest management, economic development, and sustainable forest stewardship. The program's underlying philosophy is that sound forest management has to be based on proper scientific knowledge and monitoring.
Each Model Forest is delineated into a series of experimental treatment blocks ranging in size from two to 20 hectares. When fully installed, each treatment block will be used to assess and demonstrate various silvicultural prescriptions and thinning regimes (i.e., shelterwood, clearcut, seed tree, patchcut, timber stand improvement) used for sustainable forest management. In this capacity, the Model Forests serve as research and demonstration sites for documenting and interpreting pre- and post-harvest conditions for timber production, wildlife habitat, recreation, aesthetics and other values while assessing the degree of natural regeneration in comparison to control areas without manipulations.
In order to demonstrate forest management techniques that are compatible with watershed protection, the Model Forests emphasize the use of practical and effective BMPs, including traditional and innovative technologies (i.e., water bars, broad-based dips, portable bridges, geotextile fabric, open-topped culverts, etc.). The access system for each Model Forest will address combinations of three major parameters that define the sensitivity of a given site to forest management and determine BMP effectiveness: soil type, slope, and the size and location of the site within the Watershed.
The Model Forest sites are utilized in conjunction with other WFP activities for landowner, logger, and professional forester training and accreditation. The Model Forests are preferred demonstration sites for education and information on forest sustainability, working forests, biodiversity, and water resource protection in the watershed. Guided tours are offered to the general public and specific groups (environmental and non-governmental organizations, major newspapers editorial board visits, bus tours for visitors, school groups, reporters and political decision makers).
The development of the NYC Watershed Model Forests is progressing in a deliberate manner given the multiple objectives of research, demonstration, public outreach, and continuing education. Of particular significance is the role of the Model Forests regarding the future management of the surrounding working landscape. As a long-term institutional resource, each Model Forest will provide unprecedented opportunities for private landowners, forest industry, environmental groups, and other audiences to better understand the multiple values associated with their local natural resources. As these audiences become well-informed stewards of the Watershed forests, they will hopefully recognize and act upon their potential contributions to a thriving working landscape and help to improve the quality of their natural environment.
As part of the USDA Forest Service's "Rural Development Through Forestry" Economic Action Initiative, the Watershed Forestry Program manages a grants program targeting wood-based industries in the Catskill/Delaware and Croton Watersheds. The grants program uses federal funding to leverage local dollars for the enhancement of the value-added wood industry within the watersheds. Since March 2001, the Forest Service has granted several million US dollars; each dollar granted has been fully matched by regional companies and government agencies. This multi-million dollar partnership has impacted 40 businesses and directly affected 500 jobs.
The Economic Action Initiative makes grants to companies seeking plant expansion, scientific or technical assistance, employment growth, and marketing consulting. A governing body of university professors, economists, and federal, state, and City land managers review and award grants on a competitive basis. The WFP's goal is improve the secondary wood products industry to keep the cycle of growth, harvest, milling, and utilization functioning and profitable on the local level. Currently in its third full year of operation, the Watershed Forestry Grants Initiative serves a national model for simultaneously growing rural economies while protecting water quality.
An on-going assessment of the progress and efficiency of the Watershed Forestry extension programs suggests good things are happening on this working landscape. Formative research results indicate that approximately 20% of the estimated 20,000 Watershed NIPF owners have forest management plans. This is four times the national average, suggesting that the Watershed Forestry Program's initiative to subsidize and facilitate forest management planning within the Watershed is making positive inroads.
A recent survey indicates that Watershed NIPF owners are more aware and knowledgeable about BMPs than NIPF owners in other parts of the State. The survey results suggest that the landowner extension programs are successfully transferring knowledge about the relationship between forest management activities and water quality. A field assessment of BMP implementation on NIPF owners who harvested during the last three years indicates that BMP implementation is good, but there is room for improvement (Munsell and Germain 2002). Like any incentives with landowners, forestry-related programs need to be implemented in sequential steps in order for a change of attitude and behavior to be measured. Especially in the case of conservative landowner and logger populations, outreach and extension activities must be offered in a consecutive fashion, followed by forest management planning incentives, demonstration/pilot projects and implementation (timber stand improvement ) incentives. The behavior change of landowners is expressed through increased activity on their forests. When benchmarks are established at the planning phase, behavior change can be measured quantitatively and qualitatively in later stages when implementation/operations incentives are offered. Finally, when the extension knowledge and good forest practices are implemented by local leaders and widely accepted by a majority of landowners and loggers, fine tuning the core programs will bring the latent participants on board.
On the surface, the Watershed's working landscape appears to be stable, even thriving. In fact, a short plane ride over the Watershed offers views of large forested tracts, sometimes stretching for miles and miles. However, there is a serious threat, often unnoticed, lurking under the forest canopy - forest parcelization. Today, throughout the eastern half of the United States, the challenge is increasingly one of keeping forests growing, and preventing their conversion to other uses or to such small and fragmented parcels that sustainable management is no longer feasible (Macie and Ring 2000). The challenges facing resource managers in the NYC Watershed continue to multiply, particularly as the number of NIPF owners increase. Forestry requires relatively large tracts of open space to remain economically viable. In order to combat the current trend of rural land conversions to residential, commercial and industrial development, it is critical to maintain an economically healthy working landscape.
Parcelization is a complex phenomenon resulting from dynamic interactions between the natural landscape and society's increasing demands on the land. Unlike fragmentation, which causes a disruption in continuity of the natural landscape, parcelization describes changes in ownership patterns when larger forested tracts are divided into smaller parcels owned by several owners with varying management objectives. Parcelization directly affects the potential for forest and watershed management by reducing the size of the management unit, resulting in diseconomies of scale, thereby lessening the likelihood of sustainable forest management. Parcelization is a significant driver of fragmentation (Thorne and Sundquist 2001; DeCoster and Sampson 2000; Leatherberry 1998; Zipperer and Birch 1993).
A recent study of the eastern half of the Catskill/Delaware Watershed established that the average parcel size for these lands is declining, potentially threatening the opportunity to maintain well-managed forests. We speculate that development pressures from the greater NYC region are contributing to this increase in parcelization. Specifically, from 1984 to 2000 NIPF parcels representing those portions of four counties within the Watershed decreased in size from 7 to 6 hectares (LaPierre and Germain 2002). This trend of subdividing large, singly-owned land parcels into smaller pieces owned by diverse owners with different land-use objectives reduces the effectiveness of coordinated management strategies dealing with soil and water conservation, wildlife habitat, timber production, recreation opportunities and aesthetics (Sampson 2000; Drzyaga and Brown 1998; USDA Forest Service 1995; Dennis 1992).
Addressing the challenge of increasing NIPF owners with multiple management objectives is an important issue, particularly to the WFP striving to promote sustainable forestry to an increasing number of NIPF owners. However, a more serious concern to water quality is the potential for land-use objectives to shift to non-forest uses such as rural residential dwellings. Nationwide, 80 percent of the new housing construction is taking place beyond the urban fringe on the rural landscape, with 57 percent on lots greater than 4 hectares (Heimlich and Anderson 2001). In cases when parcelization and development occur simultaneously, managers are faced with the added challenges of nutrient loading from septic systems, lawn fertilizers, animal wastes, and road salts, with transport accelerated through an increase in the amount of impermeable surfaces (Heisig 2000).
The Watershed Agricultural Council is currently involved with a land easement program for sensitive sites on farms participating in the Watershed Agricultural Program. We want to expand this easement program to forested land in the watershed in order to attain some of the environmental, social, and economical goals of the watershed partners, and achieve forest and water-related objectives. Local leaders and decision makers have realized that over the years, the Catskill/Delaware economy has suffered from abandoned farmland, mismanaged forests, sawmill closures, abandoned railroad systems, and the removal of 45,000 hectares from active economic forest and agricultural production (area acquired by the City and not harvested since). The shrinking industrial wood basket has lead to economic sustainability issues, in particular to maintaining the annual allowable cut (AAC) at the landscape level. For these reasons, a well-structured forest easement program accompanied by land use conditions, operations oversight and monitoring would protect "present use" and would be a preferred solution over fee simple private land acquisitions by governments and NGOs strictly for preservation purposes. There is a critical need for a vastly expanded forest easement program in the New York City watersheds. The Catskill/Delaware watershed has more than 250,000 hectares of privately owned land. The threat is that much of this land is or could be developed. (Goldstein and Marx 2003).
For the substantial portions of watershed lands that will not be purchased in fee simple, a WAC-administered forest easement program of considerable size is the best option for conserving this rural watershed. The City of New York and the upstate forest representatives recognize their strong mutual interest in expanding a Watershed Forestry Program and a Forest Easement Program in an environment where working landscapes and water quality protection are inextricably linked.
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1 Director, Forestry Program, Watershed Agricultural Council, 33195 NYS Highway 10, Walton, New York 13856-9751, USA. [email protected]