The reservoir's historic structures & ecosystems are an opportunity to create a unique environmental education center for our children & their future.

Friday, August 15, 2014

More Petition Coverage

The Times Ledger just published a story about our petition. At the time of their printing we were under 600 signatures. As of this posting are now at 661:

Petition fights plans for Ridgewood dam
August 15, 2014
By Sarina Trangle

A petition challenging the city's plan to decommission the Ridgewood Reservoir dam captured nearly 600 signatures.

The state’s dam classifications may not hold back a flood of opposition in Ridgewood.

Nearly 600 people have signed an online petition asking the city Parks Department to abandon its plans to construct channels between the Ridgewood Reservoir’s three basins. The department has maintained it must puncture the basins to comply with state dam regulations ushered in after Hurricane Katrina.

But the Save the Ridgewood Reservoir preservationist group’s petition on urges the state to reclassify the reservoir as a non-hazardous dam and, consequently, prevent the need for the decommissioning project.

“We’re afraid that it will ruin a really great site,” said Gary Comorau, president of the Highland Park-Ridgewood Reservoir Alliance. “They’re going to be tearing up hundreds and hundreds of trees and putting a road in there, where there are some endangered plants and animals and wetlands.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation defines a dam as any artificial barrier, including an earthen one, that impounds or may impound water.

The Ridgewood Reservoir supplied water from 1858 to 1959 and then served as a backup water facility until it was decommissioned in 1990, according to Parks officials.

Parks officials say water sits in the second basin.

Still, environmentalists, bird watchers and park patrons argue the dam definition is moot.

Comorau said the clay lining on the basins has eroded, preventing them from filling. He contends it would require 72 inches of rapid rainfall for the basins to flood and no more than 8 inches a day has been recorded in city history.

“They’re talking about spending $6 million to $11 million and closing it for at least two years to remediate something that can’t ever occur,” he said.

Joelle Byrer, Parks’ Queens capital team leader, emphasized during a June meeting that the project was designed to minimize disruption to the ecosystem and give park-goers as much access to the reservoir as possible.

She said the department needed the gravel road so its crews can maintain the channels.

At the time, the city said it planned to put the decommissioning work out to bid in August.

But when asked this week, the department said it did not have a target date for soliciting contractors.

Several elected officials, including U.S. Reps. Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn) and Grace Meng (D-Flushing), sent a letter asking the governor to reconsider the reservoir’s future late last month.

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at

©2014 Community News Group

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Ridgewood Reservoir on "BK LIve"

Yesterday author Tom Stephenson and I were interviewed on "BK Live" about birds and birding in Brooklyn. I was also able to talk about the plight of the Ridgewood Reservoir. If you want to skip ahead, the reservoir segment begins at about the 10 minute mark. Please note that they incorrectly list me as the president of the Brooklyn Bird Club. Wrong Rob. Rob Bate is actually the president.

BK Live 8/13/14: Brooklyn Bird Club from Brooklyn Independent Media on Vimeo.

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Newtown Historical Society Reservoir Tour

From the Newtown Historical Society:

Newtown Historical Society Tour

Nature and history tour of the Ridgewood Reservoir Sunday 8/17

On Sunday, August 17, we will be offering a special nature and history tour of the Ridgewood Reservoir starting at 9am in the main parking lot on Vermont Place at Highland Park.  We will view the historic structures in the recently renovated park, observe the natural world and discuss its future.

You can take public transportation to Highland Park.  The B13 bus stops along Cypress Hills Street and the Q56 stops along Jamaica Avenue.  The Cleveland Street stop on the J train is 3 blocks from the park.  Or, you can drive or bike.

This tour will be led by special guest Rob Jett, author of The City Birder.

This tour is 100% FREE and will be a great experience for children and adults alike.  For more info or to RSVP, write to or call 718-366-3715.

Thanks, and we look forward to seeing you on the 17th.  Please watch the video below for more information about the historical and environmental importance of the Ridgewood Reservoir.

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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Queens Chronicle Article

The Queens Chronicle just published an article about our petition:

Ridgewood Reservoir petition support grows
by Christopher Barca, Reporter | Posted: Thursday, August 7, 2014 10:30 am

The plan to decommission the Ridgewood Reservoir, classified as a Class C high hazard dam by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, has drawn ire from area residents and elected officials since it was announced earlier this year.

Now, in more ways than one, they are petitioning Gov. Cuomo and the state DEC to change the reservoir’s classification and cancel proposed changes to the three basins that some say will destroy the park’s ecology.

On July 31, the preservation group Save Ridgewood Reservoir took to the popular petition website to rally support for its cause.


You can read the entire article here.

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Support from the EDF

At our request, the Environmental Defense Fund sent a letter to the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, as well as, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. As more individuals, organizations and politicians rally around our cause, the greater the likelihood that historic Ridgewood Reservoir will be protected:


To:    Joelle Byrer, NYC Dept. of Parks and Recreation, Queens Capital Team Leader,
         Jonna Carmona-Graf, NYC Dept. of Parks and Recreation, Chief of Capital Program Management,
         Bram Gunther, NYC Dept. of Parks and Recreation, Chief of Forestry, Horticulture, and  Natural Resources Group,
         Venetia Lannon, NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation, Region 2 Director,

From: James T.B. Tripp, Senior Counsel, Environmental Defense Fund
         Aaron Stanton, Ford Foundation Fellow, Environmental Defense Fund

July 17, 2014
Re: Proposed Ridgewood Reservoir Construction

We understand that the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) are preparing to construct three culverts and an access road in the Ridgewood Reservoir to diminish a potential flooding problem and re-classify the Class C dam structure as a Class D structure.

We also understand that the reservoir is a unique and valuable natural resource and community amenity.  As noted on the DPR website, the reservoir is home to “wetland plants, some found on the Threatened and Endangered lists,” and it serves as a link in the Atlantic Flyway for numerous species of migratory birds.  See Ridgewood Reservoir: A Brief History, N.Y.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, (last visited July 17, 2014).

Considering the reservoir’s ecological value, as well as concern from members of the community over potential damage resulting from the proposed work, we are requesting assurances from DPR and DEC that the construction will not materially affect the quality or condition of the former reservoir’s wetland environment.

Additionally, we understand that community members have requested that DEC include the reservoir on the New York State freshwater wetland map, but that DEC has not gotten to this request because of staffing shortages and Hurricane Sandy-related work.  While we are sympathetic to the volume of work generated by Sandy, as nearly two years have passed since that event, we encourage the Department to consider this request as soon as possible.  The reservoir merits the Department’s consideration in this respect, as it is larger than 12.4 acres and is of “unique local importance.”  See N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 24-0301 (McKinney 2014).

We appreciate your consideration of these requests.


James T.B. Tripp     Aaron Stanton
Senior Counsel      Ford Foundation Fellow


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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Sign Our Petition

We've started a petition to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation with the hope that they will change the dam classification of Ridgewood Reservoir, as well as, perform the area's wetlands mapping (we submitted an application 3 years ago). We need your help to get it off the ground.

Will you take 30 seconds to sign it right now? Here's the link:

Here's why it's important:

Save The Ridgewood Reservoir Wetlands

The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (NYCDPR) is on the verge of executing its plan to decommission the Ridgewood Reservoir located on the Brooklyn–Queens border. The stated purpose is to have the reservoir reclassified from a Class "C" or "High Hazard" dam to a Class "D" or "Negligible or No Hazard" dam. The plan calls for two large breaches at the north end between each of the three basins and a third breach at the southwest end of the west basin. It also calls for the construction of a road from the south west corner to the north east corner of the west basin as well as ramps going into the east and central basins.

We oppose this plan. The Ridgewood Reservoir is not a dam and the work is unnecessary and a waste of taxpayer money. Furthermore this plan will destroy important wetlands.
 Ridgewood Reservoir operated as a water supply for Brooklyn from 1858 to 1959. Its three basins were constructed using puddle clay and rocks from the surrounding area. It was decommissioned in 1990 by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. Its basins were drained. The pumps were removed and the pipes filled with cement.

In its Permit Application, NYCDPR's consulting firm, GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc., states "Ridgewood Reservoir is located on relatively high ground and hence no off-site drainage enters the impoundment. The dam’s watershed is therefore the former reservoir’s surface area of approximately 55 acres with the only unregulated inflow to the dam being the direct precipitation onto the reservoir." Included are two tables depicting water impounding scenarios. The first gives the estimated water depths of each basin in their existing condition for both a 100-year peak inflow of 9 inches and a 72 hr 1/2 Probable Maximum Precipitation (PMP) of approximately 39.1-inches. The second table gives results after breaching. In neither scenario does the water level rise during a 100-yr storm to 155.5 feet above sea level, which is 1 foot above the toe of the dam, and therefore would seem to conform with the NYSDEC's recommendation for Class "D". Even a rainfall of 39.1 inches (1/2 PMP) would be insufficient to fill the west basin to the lowest point of the proposed downstream breach, thus making that breach, as well as the proposed road, superfluous. Why this number is even considered goes unexplained. This seems remarkable given that 39.1 inches exceeds the annual Ridgewood rainfall!

In reference to the west basin GZA mentions, "It should be noted that based on historic orthophotographs and site observations, it appears as though under current conditions runoff from storm events infiltrates through the basin bottom and does not typically create a significant impoundment in the West Basin." This comes as no surprise because, once drained of water, an impounding structure made of puddle clay looses its integrity. In 2011, two six-foot deep test pits dug in the west basin actually revealed no puddle clay, only soil.

The preliminary assessment, prepared by Round Mountain Ecological LLC for NYCDPR, noted that "Our surveys of the flora and fauna of Ridgewood Reservoir in 2007 found the site to be highly significant for the biodiversity of New York City and the region. The site is home to more than 100 native plant species, three of which are listed as Threatened or Endangered in New York State, and more than 125 bird species, seven of which are listed as Threatened or Special Concern."  It identifies important wetland in the south end of the west basin through which NYCDPR intends to build a road. Concurring with the preliminary assessment, the NYCDPR  Environmental Assessment Statement (EAS) states "A DPR Natural Resources Group (NRG) entitation conducted in 2005 identified good-quality native plant communities and/or wetlands in the souther end of Basin 3, which is also the area where the majority of Threatened or Endangered plants were found in this basin. Field visits were performed by ecologists from NRG on May 15 and May 29, 2014 which confirmed that the wetland characteristics in the southern portion of Basin 3 identified by Round Mountain Ecological are still present." It is this section through which NYCDPR will build a road. The EAS states that only a tiny portion of the wetland in the west basin will be impacted. However, Appendix B of the Permit Application contradicts that statement. It authorizes the contractor to remove all water which it determines will have "...the potential to create a deleterious effect on the Work." Furthermore it states "Groundwater levels in excavations shall be maintained at least two feet (2’) below subgrade." The assumptions made in the EAS which lead to the conclusion of only 0.3 acres of wetland disturbance is therefore simply in error. To build a road as it is currently designed, the entire wetland ecosystem will be compromised and could even be destroyed.

The EAS, NRG, Round Mountain Ecological LLC, and certified wetland delineator, Mickey Cohen, are all in agreement that all three basins of the Ridgewood Reservoir contain wetlands. However, the EAS states that NYSDEC is not obligated to protect these wetlands. We strongly disagree. The wetland, which will be compromised by the road in the west basin, contains endangered and threatened plant species. Warblers, Vireos and Woodcock breed in that basin. The claim, that wetlands under 12.4 acres per ECL Article 24 Section 24-0301 need not be protected, is clearly contradicted by passages within that same section as well as other sections which specifically address the importance and the need for conservation of wetlands falling under 12.4 acres. Indeed, the claim is contradicted by the declaration of public policy contained in Section 24-0103. Despite this stated commitment to preserving wetlands, NYSDEC has yet to act on the application for wetland protection submitted three years ago. Meanwhile, it has approved the NYCDPR's plan for decommissioning the reservoir.

We request that this project be halted until NYSDEC acts upon the application for protection of this important resource. According to NYCDPR, New York City has lost over 99% of its original 224,000 acres of freshwater wetland. Ridgewood Reservoir does require the full consideration of the NYSDEC.

We further request that NYSDEC review its decision making process for hazard designation. This project will waste at least $6 million taxpayer dollars to reclassify Ridgewood Reservoir as a class "D" structure when it appears that it already is a class "D" and in the process it will damage a wetland which NYSDEC was in part created to protect.

Lastly, we request NYCDPR reconsider the proposal offered by the Highland Park/Ridgewood Reservoir Alliance back in 2008. NYC has unintentionally created an environmental wonder. Turn Ridgewood Reservoir into a Nature Preserve. Renovate the pump houses as Visitor Interpretive Centers. Share the woodland and wetland experience of the east and west basins by adding controlled boardwalks. There is no other place like this is New York. Make the commitment. Make Ridgewood Reservoir a destination, a success story. Don't destroy it!

You can sign our petition by clicking here.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Case for Historic Landmark Status?

The Ridgewood Reservoir, by any standards, should be considered an historic landmark. Below is an article about the efforts to protect a similar area in the Bronx called the Jerome Park Reservoir. It was published in the "Norwood News" (Vol. 11, No. 18; Sept. 24 - Oct. 7, 1998). The organization that was eventually successful was the Jerome Park Conservancy:

Architect Unearths Rich Reservoir History
Makes Case for City Landmark Status
By Jordan Moss

While the raucous battle over the siting of a controversial filtration plant raged onin hearing rooms and outdoor rallies, Robert Kornfeld, Jr. quietly embarked on his own mission. But it was one with no less passion or purpose, and could turn out to be the magic bullet that finally forces the Jerome Park Reservoir from the city's list of potential plant sites.

After countless hours of burrowing in archives, retrieving forgotten maps and dusty documents, and slowing piecing together a fascinating historical puzzle, Kornfeld has emerged with a spellbinding history of the Jerome Park Reservoir, and the community that surrounds it. In the process, his report, commissioned by the Jerome Park Conservancy, a community organization that wishes to see a park created around the reservoir, makes a powerful case for landmark designation, a status that could hobble plans to build a filtration plant in the reservoir.

In the detailed narrative and accompanying photographs and maps, Kornfeld links the reservoir and all its components with the water system that feeds into it, a vast network of aqueduct conduits and architectural gems -- many of them landmarked -- that stretch from Westchester to the Bronx and Manhattan. The report lays out the circumstances by which in the 1870s a city that was already outgrowing its water supply -- which it had recently augmented with the High Bridge Tower and Reservoir, the Central Park Reservoir and a network of storage dams in Westchester and Putnam Counties -- planned the New Croton Aqueduct and an additional distributing reservoir at Jerome Park.

Kornfeld, an architect and acting chairman of the Bronx Landmarks Task Force, was not initially impressed with the history of the Jerome Park Reservoir and its environs until he took a bus tour in 1995 sponsored by the Jerome Park Conservancy.

"The world that I saw from the bus window looked like a forgotten Frederick Law Olmsted landscape, and I vowed to myself that I would discover what I was looking at, why it was there, and who designed it," Kornfeld writes in the report's introduction, referring to the landscape architect renowned for giving the city Central Park.

With the help of Daniel Donovan, coordinator of the Landmarks Task Force at the Bronx borough president's office, who rediscovered Olmsted's drawings, Kornfeld was able to prove that Olmsted's original street plan for the Kingsbridge Heights section of the Bronx, with its curved, sloped streets, was implemented largely as he designed it.

And while Kornfeld has yet to prove that Olmsted played a role in designing the reservoir itself, there are clues that point convincingly in that direction. The original plan for locating a reservoir in the area dates to 1875, the same time that Olmsted was hired to draft a street plan for what was then known as the 23rd and 24th wards. Also, Olmsted's partner, J.J.R. Croes, "was one of the leading water supply engineers," of that era, Kornfeld says. "There's no way it [planning for the reservoir] could have happened without their knowing about it."

While it was Olmsted's role that initially drew Kornfeld into the project, whatever the extent of his involvement, the rich history of the reservoir stands on its own and is worthy of landmarking, Kornfeld says.

"It's partly due to [Olmsted's] influence that [the reservoir] turned out as beautiful and special as it is [but] it's an important landmark of the Croton system without having anything to do with that."

What it has to do with, in Kornfeld's view, is the reservoir's central role in the Croton system, one that has not yet been rightfully recognized or validated by the city. According to Kornfeld, "The Jerome Park Reservoir is the only major component of the Croton Aqueduct system in New York City that the city has not landmarked (aside from the aqueduct conduits themselves)."

This despite the fact that the reservoir is comprised of stunning stone structures usually submerged under water. When the basin was emptied, Kornfeld meticulously photographed and documented what was uncovered.

Adding to their case, Kornfeld and Anne Marie Garti, the president of the Jerome Park Conservancy, place the Jerome Park Reservoir on equal footing with the Croton's two landmark masterpieces -- the High Bridge that stretches from the Bronx to Manhattan (it harbors a stretch of the Old Croton Aqueduct) and the New Croton Dam. They also point to the fact that the Central Park Reservoir became a landmark in 1993.

For Garti, Kornfeld and many other Jerome Park champions, the report is much more than just a valuable Bronx history lesson. It is a tool with which to push for landmark status and foil city environmental officials who have long had their sights set on the historic reservoir for the filtration plant the federal government is compelling them to build. In fact, in the 1980s, the DEP constructed a dividing wall in the reservoir for a filtration scheme that resulted in the destruction of an 1890s stone bridge. The aborted plan also called for the demolition of all the gate houses.

The report has been forwarded to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. According to Katie McNabb, a spokeswoman for the agency, the staff will review the report and do their own research, and they will then determine whether or not to send it on to the designation committee (five of the agency's volunteer commissioners sit on the committee on a rotating basis). The designation committee then decides whether forward it to the full commission.

Even it were to receive landmark status, victory for the reservoir activists is not assured. As McNabb states it, "We don't deal with use." In other words, the DEP could still put a plant in a landmarked reservoir as long as it went before Landmarks, a fellow city agency, for approval. Theoretically, it could modify its plans so that less harm would be done to historical elements of the reservoir. Also, as a city agency, Landmarks is not immune to the political winds that will begin blowing hard from City Hall if the DEP picks Jerome Park in December, its deadline for site selection. (Three other sites in Van Cortlandt Park and four more in Westchester are also under consideration.)

Still, the report is a pointed arrow in the anti-filtration quiver and Jerome Park advocates expect it to be only the beginning of a new preservation push.

"As a result of this report, more will be uncovered," Garti said. "People will come out of the woodwork."

As a former non-believer who converted to the Jerome Park cause, Kornfeld understands why others would "think that [the reservoir] is just a hole in the ground. That's why I felt a detailed report was necessary and to show the structures that are normally under water and that kind of thing. When you take the time to get to know it, you realize what a huge undertaking it was and what a remarkable structure it is."

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