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Victory on Esopus Creek

Esopus Creek

Photo Credit: Dan Markel
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This month, the New York State Appellate Division, Third Department (PDF 220 KB) handed down another victory for Riverkeeper in our decade-long battle to save Esopus Creek, a renowned trout stream in the heart of the Catskills. Since 2000, Riverkeeper, Catskill Mountains Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Theodore Gordon Flyfishers and other groups have fought New York City’s illegal discharges of mud and turbidity into the Esopus.

As part of the New York City drinking water supply, the City has been operating the Shandaken Tunnel since 1924 in order to bring water from the Schoharie Reservoir into Esopus Creek, which then flows into the Ashokan Reservoir. From the Ashokan, the water travels via pipes and aqueducts towards the taps of nine million New Yorkers.

Unfortunately, this operation results in massive amounts of turbid, polluted discharges into the Esopus, which has turned the once pristine stream into a muddy river that local fishermen now refer to as “Yoo-hoo Creek.”

This legal battle began in 2000 when the staff and students of the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic filed a federal Clean Water Act citizen suit on behalf of Riverkeeper and four other co-plaintiffs. This action resulted in a $5.7 million dollar fine against the City and an order for the City to obtain a permit for its illegal discharges. Once the permit was issued, however, we were forced to file an action in state court against the City and State of New York for issuing an illegal permit that allowed for the City to routinely violate water quality standards. The Supreme Court, Ulster County agreed with us that the permit was illegal and the recent decision from the Appellate Division affirmed that decision.

While this latest ruling signals yet another important victory in our fight to protect the Watershed, the mud continues to flow from the Shandaken Tunnel into Esopus Creek and the battle that started over a decade ago is still far from over. We will continue to keep our supporters updated as this fight continues. Hopefully the City will realize someday soon that if it wants to use streams as conduits for our water supply, it should do so in accordance with state and federal law, and not at the expense of important trout habitat.

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