Watershed Training Report



Thomas Dieter, a leader of the HarborLAB communications crew and Director of CUNY Start at LaGuardia Community College, was our note taker for a recent NYC Department of Environmental Protection training session to qualify HarborLAB volunteers are Watershed Docents. This was our second session for the required instruction.

Report by Thomas Dieter. Photos by Ray Tan, Erik Baard, and Patricia Menje Erickson.

March 29, 2016

LaGuardia Community College

AGENDA: ReservoirLAB Orientation with NYCDEP

5:30 PM: Introductions

Attendees: 2 NYCDEP representatives; HarborLAB volunteers; New guests, including an educator from NYCH2O. There were 15 people trained and one late volunteer who is committed to supporting the certified docents. 

(Though these sessions, along with Red Cross certifications (AED, CPR, First Aid, Basic Water Rescue for assisting both adults and juveniles), are required for our Neversink Reservoir leaders, we welcome volunteers to join us in bringing these wonderful learning experiences to NYC public school students and youth groups. Skilled paddlers are valued, but so are people to help with life vest fittings, waivers, and kid corralling!)

HarborLAB Executive Director Erik Baard started the meeting by welcoming all attendees and facilitating brief introductions.

5:45 PM: HarborLAB Overview

What is HarborLAB?

HarborLAB focuses on environmental learning through service—the “LAB” stands for “learning,” “adventure,” “boating.” HarborLAB has been around since 2012 on paper and 2013 on the water, and the fleet is purely motor-free.

What is ReservoirLAB? (Mission/vision, resources, fleet, funding, schedule, who is served.)

ReservoirLAB is an initiative to introduce students to learn about their drinking water, from the source to the sewer. It will aim to give students a FREE and comprehensive experience of the NYC water system, through a mixture of class-time, service-learning and boating trips.

A Catskill Watershed Corporation grant purchased the ReservoirLAB fleet of ten tandem kayaks and five canoes (plus life vests and paddles), and the current schedule is modest, involving monthly Friday and Saturday trips to serve schools and youth groups. As the volunteer base grows, the idea is to expand service offerings.

What is a Watershed Docent? What certifications are required?

A watershed docent is an educational guide for students and youth group  partners who want to learn about their potable watershed. Such docents engage participants in discussions and explorations of the regions and systems that make fresh water possible where they live—for us, that’s the Catskills Watershed, the Delaware Watershed, and the Croton Watershed.

Watershed docents are trained by qualified developers. The DEP Director of Education and Deputy Director of Education led the docent training at LaGuardia Community College on 3/29/2016. (See notes below.)

Program descriptions: Class paddles. Proposed: Partner Paddles, Community Paddles.

Currently ReservoirLAB offers class paddles at the Neversink Reservoir to NYC public school students. As ReservoirLAB scales up, partner paddles and community paddles could start as well, depending on the NYCDEP, its Catskills partners, and the needs of licensed commercial outfitters.

The Open Space Institute (OSI), which now serves as HarborLAB’s fiscal sponsors, purchases and protects land in the Catskills Watershed. HarborLAB will work with OSI to extend its regional outreach.

4/27/16 will mark our next volunteer orientation trip to Neversink.

Logistics: Transportation for us and schools/partners, lodging, storage.

Permits are necessary for entry to Neversink Reservoir. The permit is free, but must be obtained in advance to ensure access.

Logistics, storage and lodging to be investigated.

Watershed Agricultural Council grants cover some class visits to the reservoir provided that the classes combined paddling with forestry studies, and learn how forests protect watersheds.

ReservoirLAB is exploring separate travel grants to help defray some transportation costs. Currently, NYC residents will manage carpooling.

Catskills resources to augment trip value.

6:00 PM: NYC Department of Environmental Protection.


Kim Estes-Fradis, Director of Education. Robin Sanchez, Dep. Dir. of Education.

Materials provided:

A “Neversink: Recreational Boating” program; information cards entitled “NYC Water Supply,” “NYC Water Works,” and “NYC Water Distribution”; copies of New York City 2015 Drinking Water Supply and Quality Report; and copies of The Magic School Bus: At the Waterworks.


The group learned simple, inexpensive activities that we could bring to classrooms, teacher training, libraries, and youth groups to teach watershed hydrodynamics. Topics covered by the activity include how topography, hard vs natural surfaces, and temperature affect water flow. We also demonstrated how toxins can spread in surface water bodies and groundwater.

The NYC drinking water system’s infrastructure, relationship to nature, and history

A watershed is an area of land that feeds into the waterways of a particular area. Forests act as natural filters of our drinking waters.  Soil, root structures, and snow pack slowly release water into rivers and natural and human-made reservoirs. Three watersheds feed NYC: The Catskills Watershed, the Delaware Watershed and the Croton Watershed, and together they cover over 2,000 square miles, 75% of which is forested.

The Department of Environmental Protection follows the ethos of protecting water at the source. A significant portion of watershed lands are owned or protected by the DEP; the land and water are regularly tested, and the Catskills Watershed and Delaware Watershed do not need to filter their water.

NYC’s roughly 8.5 million residents use more than 1 billion gallons of water each day, and the city continues to grow. Centuries ago, the first residents originally drew their water locally, but it became an issue of water quantity and quality. Waterborne diseases like typhoid fever and cholera made water dangerous to drink, and limited access to fresh water harmed the city’s responsiveness to great fires and other natural disasters.

Leaders looked up to Westchester County, and in the 1800s Croton Watershed started feeding the city through aqueducts. The late 1800s saw the creation of the New Croton aqueduct which is still in use today, in part because in 1890 NYC became 5 boroughs. This aqueduct delivers 290 million gallons of water each day, all of it treated by filtration and disinfection.

Today, all three watersheds, the Croton, the Delaware and the Catskills, collect fresh water in 19 reservoirs and three protected lakes and hold roughly 580 billion gallons of water in storage.

The Neversink Reservoir is the smallest reservoir in the Catskills Watershed (92 sq. mi.); it has the highest elevation and reaches a depth of 175 feet. It was constructed in 1941 by damming the Neversink River and in 1954 was the second to begin operating in the watershed. To create the reservoir, two hamlets, Neversink and Bittersweet, were condemned and flooded.

To get to NYC, water from the Neversink goes through the 85 mile-long Delaware Aqueduct, the world’s longest tunnel. At certain places, the tunnel can run more than 500 feet below ground. Today, the tunnel has a substantial leak near the Hudson River, losing more than 18 million gallons per day. When City Water Tunnel 3 is completed, the city will be able to do repairs to Tunnels 1 and 2 which will have served NYC continuously since 1917 and 1936, respectively.

Where does the water go? It travels from its respective watershed and aqueduct into the Kensico Reservoir where the water then goes on to be disinfected and treated at the Catskill/Delaware UV Disinfection Facility. The water then funnels through the city’s primary service lines to more than 6,800 miles of underground water mains. The gift of gravity creates enough force for the water to travel from its watershed to six floors up most NYC buildings.

Once the water has been used, it returns to a network of tunnels, this time in the form of 7,400 miles of sewers. NYC houses 14 wastewater treatment plants where used water is processed, cleaned and return to our waterways. The Newtown Creek treatment facility is the largest in NYC, and it cleans the solid waste, or sludge.

According to the New York City 2015 Drinking Water Supply and Quality Report, the local water quality is the cleanest in 100 years, since 1909 when measurements began.

Expectations (deliverables) for the program.

Docents need to know about the three watersheds that serve NYC, as well as the unique systems that transport and treat the water, and be able to communicate this information in an engaging and educational way to volunteers and participants.

Docents should engage participants in open discussions about the importance of fresh water and the implications for its use, misuse and overuse in the context of a place as rich, diverse and large as NYC. Topics of discussion can include why it is important to conserve water, the methods by which wastewater is treated and released, the average daily use of water in NYC (~75 gallons/person), and the changes we have made over time, including with the infrastructure, science and human behavior.

Some facts:

71% of the Earth is surface water.

Less than 1% of it is clean, fresh and drinkable. 2% is icepack.

NYC has the largest surface water reservoir system.

The 2.5 mile bypass that is being constructed for the Delaware Aqueduct leak (there are actually 2 leaks) will shut down the aqueduct in 2022 for about 12 months.








6:50 PM: Concluding remarks and Q & A.

Spring Events!


Join our spring events!

There’s much to do afloat and ashore ahead of the Memorial Day rush into summer!

You can always keep up with HarborLAB’s  events through our Facebook page, even if you don’t have a profile on that site:


Soon we’ll have a revamped website, calendar and registration system.

Please note that we’ll soon be building a reed boat each Saturday. Come join us! Email harborlab@gmail.com with the subject line “Boat Building” to participate.

Here’s a quick list of things to do with us:

APRIL 16 Pat’s Permeable Platform Party!
Sat 9 AM
New York, NY, United States
APRIL 17 Pat’s Permeable Platform Party!
Sun 9 AM
New York, NY, United States


APRIL 23 Earth Day Gardening and Seedball Making!
Sat 11 AM ·
New York, NY, United States
APRIL 24 World Water Walk Dry Run
Sun 11 AM ·
Washington Square Park
New York, NY, United States
APRIL 27 Neversink Reservoir Site Meeting
Wed 7:30 AM
Neversink Reservoir
Neversink, NY, United States


MAY 7 Newtown Creek Sweep!
May 7 – May 8 ·
New York, NY, United States
MAY 14 LIC Springs Seedball Making!
Sat 12 PM ·
Vernon Blvd
New York, NY, United States





Great Opportunity for Students!


Details from Waterfront Alliance:

Greetings from the Waterfront Alliance, a civic organization working to protect, transform, and revitalize the New York and New Jersey harbor and waterfront. We are writing to ask your help in inviting your students to apply to attend our annual Waterfront Conference as part of a group of 100 Waterfront Scholarssponsored by Arcadis. This year’s Waterfront Conference will explore how the public can deepen its sense of ownership over local waterfronts, and how we can reach new voices toward the future of a waterfront that balances local, regional, and global needs.


Waterfront Scholars will be invited to attend the Waterfront Conference, held May 12th aboard the Hornblower Infinity at Pier 40 in Manhattan, free of charge, and will be recognized during the day’s activities.


We are looking for students who can answer, in 250 words or less, the following prompt:


What does it mean to live in a coastal city in the 21st century? What do we need to do to make sure that our waterfronts are accessible, resilient, and ecologically healthy?


Interested applicants are asked to fill out this survey by Monday, April 18, including the option to post a summary of their response on social media network(s) of their choice using the hashtag #WaterfrontScholars. We would be grateful for your help in distributing this survey to students, classes, and student organizations in fields such as urban planning and design, architecture, engineering, environmental science, environmental journalism, political science, and environmental education. The attached flyer can be posted online, shared on social media, and/or printed and distributed to help spread the word.


Following the Conference, Waterfront Scholars will be invited to submit a 500-word essay, a three-minute video, or other multimedia entry documenting what they learned. Five entries will be selected for publication in our biweekly WaterWire newsletter, with more than 10,000 subscribers, and will be invited to joinWaterfront Alliance President and CEO Roland Lewis and other notable waterfront leaders for a luncheon.

Poseidon’s Pensioners: Floating Senior Housing on Newtown Creek



New residents of the Vernon C. Bain prison barge heading out for a birding walk.

An innovative Canadian company will be mooring derelict ships and a converted prison barge along the Newtown Creek to serve as senior housing, starting this spring.

The first residence vessel to arrive was the decommissioned FDNY Fireboat John D. McKean, but many clients bid higher for the chance to live aboard NYC’s Vernon C. Bain prison barge even before it’s towed to the creek. “We understand the correctional facility is being phased out over a period of years, to be replaced by neighborhood prisons in College Point and Staten Island. Our clients and prisoners will live side by side during the transition,” said Poseidon’s Pensioners CEO Mackenzie Hauser. So far the cohabitation has gone smoothly, he noted, apart from one melee when the first of several basketball courts aboard the floating prison was repainted for shuffleboard.

“We’re excited to make New York City the Miami of Canada,” Hauser said.


Residents captivated by the opalescent sheen sliding past their new home.

A Canadian Health Ministry spokesperson dismissed medical concerns about the Newtown Creek, which the US Environmental Protection Agency has designated a “Superfund” priority cleanup project because of its toxic stew of heavy metals and petrochemicals. “We worried at first but then saw your health warnings were all focused on children and women of childbearing age. If anything, the absence of screaming kids and loud music is a bonus,” she said. She acknowledged mental health concerns, however, as some residents expressed deep frustration at the lack of a lawn and kids to yell at to get off of it. Poseidon’s Pensioners is contracting with Smiling Hogshead Ranch urban farm to install a grassy deck and Flux Factory for 3D holographic pimply teens to meet that need.

But Newtown Creek is in fact already home to a number of so-called “hipster” artists and scene-crashers who occupy sailboats and a retired ferry. Some object that the elderly Canadians, despite their shared enjoyment of marijuana, might change the carefully curated atmosphere of rebellion. “This is worse than when my mom got on Instagram,” said one.