If You Live In NYC, Speeding Endangers Your Drinking Water

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

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.

15 Comments

  1. (ascends soapbox)

    Polluted fresh water = game over. The reservoir needs to be protected. I don’t like being pulled over any more than anyone else, but one overconfident speeder wiping out and spewing gasoline, oil and coolant onto the ground near a reservoir or watershed can very easily pollute the drinking water supply for millions. It’s no joke, and no abstraction.

    In Portland, Oregon, the city’s drinking water is supplied from the Bull Run Watershed, an area near Mt. Hood that is off limits to the public. This means no four wheeling, no hunting with its attendant lead bullets and shot pellets and no backwoods campers pooping, washing dishes and lighting campfires. When you piss in the watershed, you are pissing in the drinking water for a million people. Again, no joke.

    I’m no fan of law enforcement overreach, but in this case, the public good outweighs the desires of a handful of hoons.

    1. I agree. Sooner or later its going to happen, enforcement or not, probably speeding or not. There are plenty of roads to enjoy spirited driving on other than one where any sort of fluid spill is going to end up in drinking water.

    2. What about the animals? Exterminate them all, or outfit them with (non-disposable) diapers and send around crews on nappy patrol?

      FYI, astronauts on the ISS drink recycled pee and sweat. Not all of it sourced from humans.

      Let real cops write the speeding tickets, and if someone has an actual contamination event, let the DEPs enforce that.

      1. OK, if not from humans, where exactly is that reclaimed drinking water on the ISS sourced – little green moon men?

        1. Most of it IS from humans, but it’s also harvested from lab rats and the other experimental subjects.

      2. Not to mention, earth is pretty much a closed-loop system so ALL water is recycled water. Yes, whales had sex and fish peed in the water you drink.

    3. It is interesting around here I live close to two watersheds. Both are lakes that at one time had development on them, one a resort/campground and another a train depot for logging operations surrounding the lake. Since then the land around them has been purchased and closed to public access. Though one of them allows tours for school children which I chaperoned when my daughter went. Contrast that to another city not too far away who’s drinking water comes from a lake surrounded by homes where power boating is allowed. Many of the homes on the more remote parts of the lake actually draw their water directly from the lake. The city did outlaw the use of 2 stroke engines on the part of the lake that is in their jurisdiction, but that is a small portion of said lake.

    4. A few years back we had a major drought in these parts. One of the two major drinking water reservoirs had several vehicles that had been there for decades uncovered by the receding water. Pollution is relative, you don’t go from purity to poison with a quart of Havoline or even an entire Cavalier dumped into a reservoir. Clean water is an important priority, but this is a 3rd derivative risk being mitigated through the happenstance of an enforcing agency getting cash payments at the end of the day. Vehicles will occasionally end up in rivers, lakes, ditches, etc. If our drinking water systems can’t handle it, That might be something that someone might look into, but all the enforcement in the world won’t stop drunks from driving, people from looking at their phones or yes, even speeding. If it is that critical, then close the road.

    5. A few years back we had a major drought in these parts. One of the two major drinking water reservoirs had several vehicles that had been there for decades uncovered by the receding water. Pollution is relative, you don’t go from purity to poison with a quart of Havoline or even an entire Cavalier dumped into a reservoir. Clean water is an important priority, but this is a 3rd derivative risk being mitigated through the happenstance of an enforcing agency getting cash payments at the end of the day. Vehicles will occasionally end up in rivers, lakes, ditches, etc. If our drinking water systems can’t handle it, That might be something that someone might look into, but all the enforcement in the world won’t stop drunks from driving, people from looking at their phones or yes, even speeding. If it is that critical, then close the road.

  2. bald.tires is always my next internet stop after reading hooniverse. It’s cool to see Peter writing here! Serious articles and comedy, you’re doing great at both!

  3. Another example of how cities are “Sustainable.” Just import all your food, water, energy, products, and sanitation services from the surrounding rural areas and pretend you make zero impact on the environment because you have a handful of solar panels (Made with coal power in China) on the roof. Great story.

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