If you’ve ever taken a sip of tap water in New York City, at least a quarter of it came from one reservoir, the Pepacton, over a hundred miles away in the Catskills. In fact, around half of all the water for NYC comes from two reservoirs in Delaware county. The Pepacton is one, and the Cannonsville is the other.
All of the reservoirs that supply NYC with its water are inside the New York City Watershed, and the state claims any water that comes out of the ground in this two-thousand square mile region is owned by them.This is a bold claim considering most of the land inside the watershed is in private hands. All land owners inside the watershed have the option to sell it to the state for conservation, but even if you don’t, the state polices what you can do on it (going as far to say you cannot build a wooden bridge over a stream). This is where cars get involved, as these rules wouldn’t mean much if there wasn’t enforcement on the ground.
The DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) is New York State’s own version of the EPA. They drive around in cop cars making sure nobody pisses in a reservoir. For a while, this was all hunky dory, but the department decided one day in 2003 to reach outside of it’s written jurisdiction and pull somebody over. Not for relieving themselves in a babbling brook, but for speeding.Lower courts threw out the tickets, but a legal battle ensued. It ended in 2005 at the highest court in the state. The tickets were reinstated in a 4-5 decision, and the DEP now had the authority to pull people over for traffic violations.
The reasoning behind this decision was that speeding around reservoirs could lead to an accident. This, in turn, could leak oil or gasoline into the body of water. However, many residents don’t accept this explanation, and see it as another abuse of power by the state.In 2005, a spokesperson for the DEP said, “Part of the function of protecting people is protecting them from speeders, but that doesn’t mean that DEP police will be setting up speed traps.”That wasn’t the case in 2005, and it isn’t the case today. DEP Police around the reservoir regularly set up speed traps, especially on an access road upon the massive dam that contains the body of water. To residents around the reservoir, it amounts to a sort of bullying by the city. It isn’t anything new either.
Flooding the Valley
The city created the huge artificial lake in 1955 by flooding a valley containing four towns, displacing nearly a thousand people. The residents were given a low-ball appraisal, paid the paltry sum, and then their homes were demolished. When New Yorkers are especially thirsty, you can still see roads from the former towns of Arena, Pepacton, Shavertown and Union Grove leading into the lake bed.Another fact makes the entire situation slightly more complicated; the road around the Pepacton is amazing to drive on.
At 32 miles long, the road around the reservoir is larger than the Nurburgring. It also has a variety of tantalizing corners. There’s a nice hairpin, several very fast and long bends, and barely any driveways or houses along the road. It’s a little tough to enjoy it though. The DEP had 170 officers in 2005 (the number has since grown), and a station in the adjacent town of Downsville. This makes the entire road around the reservoir one massive speed-trap.I know what you’re thinking. “I’ve never been pulled over by an environmental protection agency! They just put funny color-changing paper in water, or something!”Not these guys.If you find yourself on a day trip up to the Catskills you may pass by this reservoir. You may even find yourself enjoying its scenic views, and the winding way around it. Just keep in mind: Enjoying it too much means somebody in Brooklyn may get a glass full of 10w-30.