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

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Fate of the Ridgewood Reservoir

The next few months will determine the ultimate fate of the Ridgewood Reservoir. After 8 years of dedicated hard work by dozens of concerned individuals, community groups, community boards, politicians and conservationists, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation may finally get their way and destroy the unique historic and environmental habitat of the three reservoir basins. If they succeed, it will not be through the use of transparent, honest governance and regulation, but rather a "three card monte" game of obfuscation and subterfuge of which the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is now complicit.

Below is an open letter from Steve Nanz, one of the people who has been active in the effort to protect the Ridgewood Reservoir since 2007. Steve does a great job of encapsulating this long struggle and the current "legal" issue that the parks department is using to trump all arguments for protection. I can't stress enough the importance of attending Monday's meeting and making your voice heard. You can also share this page by copying and pasting the following link into a webpage, an email or text message -


By now you may be aware of the upcoming Ridgewood Reservoir community meeting which will be held by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (NYCDPR) to explain the proposed plan to decommission the reservoir. It  will be held this  Monday June 30, 2014, from 7:00 pm – 9:00pm at:

St. Pancras School
6820 Myrtle Avenue
Ridgewood, NY

I will unfortunately be out of town but I encourage as many people as possible to attend that meeting.

About eight years ago the Ridgewood Reservoir, located on the Brooklyn/Queens border, became a battle ground between the NYC Parks Department and a group of environmentalists and concerned citizens in the local community. The Parks Department had initiated a plan to develop parts of the Ridgewood Reservoir as an active sports facility. I first became involved with the issue in 2007 when Jennifer Monson, Artistic Director iLAND, contacted my wife, Heidi Steiner, through the Brooklyn Bird Club, to see if there was interest in conducting a breeding bird survey of the Reservoir. The hope was to dissuade the city from developing the basins as ball fields by demonstrating its environmental significance. Heidi and our friend, Rob Jett, with the help of many other volunteers did in fact conduct the survey and identified 38 potential breeding species of which 20 were confirmed (see Breeding Birds RR 07.doc).  The list includes as confirmed American Woodcock. Those concerned citizens formed the Highland Park/Ridgewood Reservoir Alliance with Heidi as its first president. The current president is Gary Comorau. The Alliance has a website, maintained by Rob Jett, which contains just about everything one would want to know about the Reservoir and its history at:

Additional information can be found at:

I have uploaded many additional documents to my FTP server and they can be accessed at:
user: snguest
p/w: guest

The Parks' development plan was ultimately rejected in 2008 by then New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. on the grounds that it might adversely affect both the environment and the surrounding community. Instead, the plan was altered to simply conduct renovations and to fully decommission the reservoir. The renovation phase has happened and the result is in my opinion very good. In fact they are beautiful. However, the Parks Department has now embarked on the decommissioning phase.

According to the Parks Department website (see above link),  the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP, not to be confused with DEC) decommissioned the site in 1990. However, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which oversees the state's system of dams, continued to list the Reservoir as a Class "C" or "High Hazard" dam. The Parks Department and DEC claim that for safety compliance reasons, work is required to reclassify the reservoir as a Class "D" or "Negligible or No Hazard" dam.

There are two central issue which I believe need to be addressed. The first is that I and others believe that the current Class "C" designation is in error. We believe that it already qualifies as a Class "D" dam. The second issue is that the construction plan, as it currently stands, will adversely impact a wetland habitat. To be clear, this second point is not a personal belief as may be the first. It is a fact which was determined by multiple experts including those from the Parks Department.

With respect to the first issue, I agree with  Mike Miller, Assemblyman for Distract 38, who in his letter of March 28, 2014, requested Commissioner Martens reconsider DEC's position noting that Parks will as he puts it "...destroy the unique ecology of the site as well as waste $11-million dollars in funding..." Since the basins were drained, no significant amount of water has been impounded. This should be no surprise. The three basins which make up the reservoir were constructed using puddle clay and rocks from the surrounding area. When the reservoir was decommissioned, the pumps were removed and the pipes sealed. The basins were drained and no water can get in except for rain fall directly onto the reservoir as is noted in the Parks' Permit Application (see Ridgewood_Permit.pdf in the Permit Aplication folder). From Wikipedia: "The puddle is laid about 10 inches (25 cm) thick at the sides and nearly 3 ft (0.91 m) thick at the bottom of a canal, built up in layers. Puddle has to be kept wet in order to remain waterproof so it is important for canals to be kept filled with water." An exhaustive description of the process implemented at the Reservoir as well as an OP-ED piece to the NY Times, authored by William C. Thompsan Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., can be found at:

The basin floors and walls are now covered with trees, their roots penetrating severeal feet. They have been through 24 dry seasons since the basins were drained. I suspect that nature has already decommissioned the dam. It would seem likely that the reservoir is a failed dam which no longer materially impounds water and does in fact qualify as a Class "D" dam per DOW TOGS 3.1.5 – GUIDANCE FOR DAM HAZARD CLASSIFICATION (see DAM HAZARD CLASSIFICATION_togs315.pdf) which states:

(4) Class "D" or "Negligible or No Hazard" dam: A dam that has been breached or removed, or has failed or otherwise no longer materially impounds waters, or a dam that was planned but never constructed. Class "D" dams are considered to be defunct dams posing negligible or no hazard. The department may retain pertinent records regarding such dams.

The plans call for placing culverts between basins 1 and 2 (east and central) and between basins 2 and 3 (central and west). Basin 3 will be breached at the south west corner and a road will be constructed from there to the north east end where the converts will be located. According to the Environmental Assessment, water is unlikely to ever flow through the basin 3 breach. The Permit Application concludes that a storm dropping 39.1 inches in 72 hours  would not cause this to happen. That amount of rain exceeds the annual rainfall. The Reservoir is designated Class "C" due to it's potential to impound water. It does not seem to have that ability anymore even if it could be demonstrated that enough rain could fall in order raise the water to hazardous levels were the basins sealed. The Environmental Assessment speculates that water from municipal source could raise the water level but gives no evidence. The reservoir is the highest point in Long Island and the pipes going in are filled with cement.

• With respect to the second issue, I have been told by DEC that at some point in the future it will designate wetlands in the east and central basins but the west basin will never gain that status. When asked why wetland designation does not happen prior to construction, I was told that DEC resources are required for Sandy projects. I pointed out that both a certified wetland delineator (see Mickey Cohen Wetland Report.pdf) and the Parks' own Preliminary Assessment (see Ridgewood Reservoir Draft Assessment.pdf), prepared by Round Mountain Ecological LLC, indicted the existence of a wetland in the west basin as well as the environmental significance of that wetland but was told that it was the opinion of DEC that no wetland of environmental significance existed. After my my conversations with DEC, I received a copy of the recently released Environmental Assessment Statement (see Environmental Assessment.pdf). It confirms the existence of a wetland in the west basin sighting the work of Round Mountain. It should be noted here that the Round Mountain survey identified endangered and threatened plant species in that basin. The EAS also sited the results of its own wetland delineation survey conducted in 2011 by GZA GeoEnvironmental and field visits by ecologists from NRG in 2014 both of which confirmed "characteristics and native wetland species" in portions of basin 3.

Although the EAS admits that wetland habitat will be adversely impacted by the road construction, it makes the claim that it does not matter because the wetland is under 12.4 acres per ECL Article 24 (see ECL ARTICLE 24.pdf) and even if it were over 12.4 acres, DEC may not need to give it protected status. Since the reservoir has not yet been decommissioned according to the DEC, it remains a reservoir and "...Reservoirs are not considered to be jurisdictional wetlands according to the NYSDEC." No reference is given for this and I was unable to find its origin and again, NYCDEP considers the reservoir to be decommissioned. However, the statement seems to conflict with 24-0103. Declaration of policy of the ECL which states:

"It is declared to be the public policy of the state to preserve, protect and conserve freshwater wetlands and the benefits derived therefrom, to prevent the despoliation and destruction of
freshwater wetlands, and to regulate use and development of such wetlands to secure the natural benefits of freshwater wetlands, consistent with the general welfare and beneficial economic, social and agricultural development of the state."

To be clear, DEC is calling this a reservoir because it has not been decommissioned in the sense that it believes that it has the potential to impound water at potentially hazardous levels even though it has not impounded water since it was decommissioned 25 years ago. It therefore is not obligated to protect the wetlands despite the ECL Article 24 Statement of Policy.

Furthermore per ECL Article 2:

Section 24-0301. Commissioner's study.

The commissioner shall, as soon as practicable, conduct a study to identify and map those individual freshwater wetlands in the state of New York which shall have an area of at least twelve and four-tenths acres or more, or if less than twelve and four-tenths, (a) have, in the discretion of the commissioner, and subject to review of his action by the board created pursuant to title eleven of this article, unusual local importance for one or more of the specific benefits set forth in subdivision seven of section 24-0105 or...

Subdivision seven of section 24-0105:

7. Any loss of freshwater wetlands deprives the people of the state of some or all of the many and multiple benefits to be derived from wetlands, to wit:

(a) flood and storm control by the hydrologic absorption and storage capacity of freshwater wetlands;
(b) wildlife habitat by providing breeding, nesting and feeding grounds and cover for many forms of wildlife, wildfowl and shorebirds, including migratory wildfowl and rare species such as the bald eagle and osprey;
(c) protection of subsurface water resources and provision for valuable watersheds and recharging ground water supplies;
(d) recreation by providing areas for hunting, fishing, boating, hiking, bird watching, photography, camping and other uses;
(e) pollution treatment by serving as biologicO and chemical oxidation basins;
(f) erosion control by serving as sedimentation areas and filtering basins, absorbing silt and organic matter and protecting channels and harbors;
(g) education and scientific research by providing readily accessible outdoor bio-physicallaboratories, living classrooms and vast training and education resources; and
(h) open space and aesthetic appreciation by providing often the only remaining open areas along crowded river fronts and coastal Great Lakes regions; and
(i) sources of nutrients in freshwater food cycles and nursery grounds and sanctuaries for freshwater fish.

I see at least three points which apply: b, d, and g. Although under 12.4 acres, this wetland should be protected

In conclusion, whereas I lack the expertise to determine with 100% confidence the dam classification, loss of important wetland, I believe, is inarguable. DEC and Parks seem to be on the path of shoot first and ask questions later. But perhaps all the points I have raised will be addressed in Monday's meeting to the satisfaction of reasonable people. I do not see how that is possible without mapping the actual wetland by an unbiased neutral party, something which I do not believe has been done to date. I would like to be wrong, because the plan calls for the long term environmental rehabilitation of the Reservoir.

Thank for your interested in this matter.

Best Regards,

Steve Nanz


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Important Public Meeting

From the Queens Chronicle:


Ridgewood Reservoir meeting on June 30, 2014
State DEC to discuss dam decommissioning
Thursday, June 26, 2014 10:30 am

Plans for the decommissioning of dams at Highland Park’s Ridgewood Reservoir will be discussed at a community meeting on Monday, June 30 at St. Pancras School in Ridgewood.

The meeting will be hosted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the city Department of Parks and Recreation.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

As part of the decommissioning process, the state is requiring the city to build culverts through the walls of the old water basins as a hedge against having them flood and possibly fail during a hurricane or a major storm.

Area residents have expressed reservations about the plan, particularly its potential impact on local flooding and the possibility that vandals or other people might use the structures to congregate.

St. Pancras School is at 68-20 Myrtle Ave. The entrance is on 68th Street.


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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Upcoming Walking Tour

The Newtown Historical Society has a tour of the neighborhood adjacent to the reservoir this coming Saturday. From their website:


Flag Day Tour of Ridgewood

Join us for a fascinating look at the town of Ridgewood. We'll visit former theaters, an old courthouse, see part of a former trolley line and learn about the different styles of yellow brick rowhouses, among other things! Event will end with an optional tour of a brewery.

Date: Saturday, June 14, 2014
Time: 12:00pm
Meet: at M train at Forest Ave
Cost: $20 for non-members, $10 for members


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