Campaigns & Cases > Safeguard Drinking Water > Ashokan Reservoir: Stop the mud

Ashokan Reservoir: Stop the mud

New York City is once again dumping millions of gallons a day of turbid water from its Ashokan Reservoir into the Lower Esopus Creek. Let’s demand better ways to manage this water supply in the face of climate change – and protect communities downstream.

Stop The MudHalfway along its course through the Catskills, the Esopus Creek is dammed to create the Ashokan Reservoir, one of the most important parts of New York City’s vast drinking water supplies. Erosion from severe storms – which will become more common as the climate changes – causes excessive turbidity in the reservoir.

One way New York City manages this challenge is to dump massive amounts of muddy water from the reservoir into the Lower Esopus Creek, which flows 32 miles from the reservoir to the Hudson. These releases are the least expensive way for the DEP to preserve the quality of NYC drinking water. However, this “solution” only shifts costs and consequences onto farmers, businesses, residents and communities downstream.

The turbid water severely affects water quality, wildlife habitat and recreation along the creek.

Levels of light and oxygen within the water are reduced, affecting fish and their ability to feed and see their food. Further downstream, the turbid water adds to the cost of drinking water treatment for communities that draw water from the Hudson. A late December 2020 storm triggered the latest release, which will continue, with some pauses, through Spring.

These impacts are only expected to grow with climate change, making the releases unsustainable and unacceptable in the long term.

We must demand better. We have a critical opportunity right now to raise our voices and stop the mud. Click here to add your voice.

Video by Michael Nelson on Vimeo.

Please get informed and speak out:

 


Map: Community members document turbidity in Lower Esopus Creek

 

When you speak out, here are key points to make:

  • Describe the impact of muddy discharges on the creek, the Hudson and the communities along their banks.
  • Urge New York State to require New York City to prepare a supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement that takes a true hard look at alternatives, and to consider all available science on the impacts of climate change and extreme storms.

“DEP failed to take the required hard look at the range of structural alternatives, as
identified in the 2013 consent order, to minimize or avoid turbid discharges to the Lower
Esopus. This is not a hard look. In fact, it’s hardly any look at all.”
– Paul Gallay, President and Hudson Riverkeeper

Read our full testimony for the March 3, 2021, Public Hearing

Community comments

“Over the years, I’ve put thousands of people out on the Esopus to enjoy its beauty and experience the abundant wildlife. The [impact] of these releases is very real, so I’m more than a little angry and heartbroken about what’s being done to the creek and the wildlife that calls it home.”
– Gail Porter, Owner, I Paddle New York

“New York City’s muddy releases not only impact the Lower Esopus Creek but also the Hudson River estuary where our drinking water supplies come from. This fact has been largely, if not completely, ignored. We demand that the Department of Environmental Conservation hold New York City accountable.”
– Shannon Harris, Supervisor, Town of Esopus, N.Y.

“The Ashokan Reservoir was engineered and built at the outset of the 20th century, and now is the time to update its structures and operations for the challenges of the 21st century. Confronted with climate change, we expect more frequent intense storm events which increase turbidity as well as flood risk in the Esopus Creek watershed. The DEP needs to be compelled to mitigate downstream impacts and explore alternatives that offer greater flexibility to handle extreme storm events. The overarching goal should be developing up-to-date solutions that meet the both needs of the City and the concerns of downstream communities.”
– Patrick Landewe, Saugerties Lighthouse Keeper

 

Learn more

Visit the DEC’s information page on Ashokan Reservoir and the Draft Environmental Impact Statement

Read the Executive Summary of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement

Watch The Mountain River, produced and directed by Tobe Carey and co-produced by Mark Loete. This 73-minute film follows the Esopus Creek from its headwaters on Slide Mountain to the Ashokan Reservoir and on to the Hudson River at Saugerties. The Mountain River highlights the continuing challenges of climate change and ongoing conservation efforts on the creek. Available to rent or purchase on Vimeo.

Read A Journey Through Lower Esopus Creek (PDF)

Find more information at the Lower Esopus Watershed Partnership

Press coverage

The River: Mud in the Water: The Fight Over Turbidity in Esopus Creek

Daily Freeman: Speakers at Ashokan Reservoir hearing want NYC to back up claim that muddy water discharges are harmless

Daily Freeman: Ashokan Reservoir discharges into Esopus Creek come under fire at hearing

Daily Freeman: Muddy discharges from Ashokan Reservoir into Esopus Creek will face scrutiny at hearing

Daily Freeman: More coverage

Green Radio Hour with Jon Bowermaster: Focus on ‘The Big Muddy (the Esopus Creek)’

Media contact: Leah Rae, lrae@riverkeeper.org, (914) 715-6821

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