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

Monday, November 10, 2014

Upcoming Volunteer Event

We just received the following request from the parks department:

Volunteers needed to help maintain our trees in Highland Park

The NYC Park’s Natural Areas Volunteers are hosting an upcoming event in the Brooklyn/ Queens area, for which we have a great need for volunteers.

On Tuesday, November 18th, we will be at Highland Park,  from 9:00am to 1:00pm we will be conducting an invasive removal and tree stewardship project.

Here is the link to the event page where you can read more and register if you are interested:

Joseph G. Homsey
Stewardship Program Coordinator,
Natural Areas Volunteers
T - 212.360.3317

F - 212.360.3316

E -

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Highland Park Improvements Planned

A small, but important piece was just posted in the Times Newsweekly:

"With the city’s Parks Department abandoning its plan to breach the Ridgewood Reservoir’s walls, Parks Committee Chairperson Steve Fiedler reported the agency now plans to spend the money for that endeavor on improving ball fields and other facilities in nearby Highland Park. The improvements include new handball courts and a renovated playground near Cypress Hills."

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Waterworks Bike Tour


Michael Miscione, the Manhattan Borough Historian, will lead a bicycle tour of the now defunct water supply that served the once-independent City of Brooklyn. The system built in the 19th century brought fresh water from Queens and Long Island into the city. It was largely abandoned after Brooklyn was consolidated into NYC in 1898, and its components -- pipes, reservoirs, pumping stations, wells etc. were dismantled, built over or repurposed. But some remnants and ruins still exist, and can be seen if you know where to look.

Note: This is NOT a free event! The tour is sponsored by NYC H2O.

Saturday, October 18, 2014, 11:00am

The tour meets at the Ridgewood Reservoir.

The ride will last about 3 hours and cover about 15 miles.

Bring your own (functional) bike and a sandwich.

To register or request more information click here:

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Ridgewood Walking Tour

Tour cancelled

We regret to inform you that this Sunday's tour of Ridgewood will be postponed to a yet-to-be-determined date.

The Newtown Historical Society has an upcoming walking tour of Ridgewood:

Please RSVP to (718) 366-3715 or if you wish to attend this event.

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Juniper Berry Article

Below is an article I wrote for the current issue of the magazine "Juniper Berry":

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Nature and history tour of the Ridgewood Reservoir

On Sunday, October 5, Newtown Historical Society 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.

It is suggested that you bring sunblock and water. You may also wish to bring binoculars and cameras.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

More Media Coverage

We even got our story covered in Nowy Dziennik (Polish Daily News)!

Read the fairly accurate Google Translate version of the article here.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Walk in the Park blog article

"A Walk in the Park" just posted a really good reservoir piece today:

DEC/Parks Department Reverse Ridgewood Reservoir Culvert Plan

The decommissioned Ridgewood Reservoir in Highland Park is a natural oasis on the Queens-Brooklyn border. Activists were worried that a state-mandated plan to cut culverts in the reservoir would have impacted the natural beauty of the area. Citizens were concerned that this could pave the way for future development.


By Geoffrey Croft
For years the community fought vehemently against Mayor Bloomberg's $50 million PlaNYC proposal to clear out 20 acres of one of the basins for ballfields and develop the natural area for active recreation.

It appears these efforts may finally be paying off.

Click here to read the entire story.

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Another Queens Courier Article

The following article was just published in the Queens Courier:

New hope for Ridgewood Reservoir
By Salvatore Licata |

The Ridgewood Reservoir is gaining some dam support.

The head of the state Department of Environmental Conservation told lawmakers that the city Parks Department requested his agency reclassify the reservoir as a “low hazard” dam, which would obviate the need for a $6 million construction project to prevent flooding.

The reservoir has been listed as a major flood hazard with potential to do damage to its surroundings. In order to minimize the risk of flooding, the Parks Department planned to connect the reservoir’s three basins by creating three large breaches in the reservoir’s surrounding berms.

“If reclassified, the Class A [low flood threat] designation will allow Parks to maintain the reservoir as a dam, without necessitating breaching the structure and all the associated intrusions, such as access-road construction, tree removal and habitat disturbance,” DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens wrote in a Sept. 2 letter.

Martens said his staff felt the downgrade “may be technically justified,” and that the Parks Department is “in the process of submitting additional information to justify this reclassification,” raising the possibility that the reservoir can be fully preserved.

“We share your view that the reservoir is a unique, historic site that over the years has reverted to nature and has become a haven for wildlife, as well as local residents seeking respite from urbanized surroundings,” Martens wrote.

The letter also said that the DEC is developing a schedule to map the wetlands in the three basins of the reservoir, starting early this fall.

This initial work will identify the exact boundaries of each of the wetlands and what conditions exist there.

Even though the letter is a step forward in the fight to save the reservoir, state Sen. Joe Addabbo remains skeptical.

“I will not rest until there is an A classification [low flood risk] letter from the Parks Department in my hand,” Addabbo said. “I am optimistic we will get what we want but just something more definitive.”

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Monday, September 8, 2014

Revamped Plan Article

The following article was published in DNAinfo New York:

Revamped City Plan Would Preserve Ridgewood Reservoir
By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska on September 8, 2014 1:14pm

QUEENS — The state and the city are considering a plan that would allow Ridgewood Reservoir to remain untouched and preserve its ecosystem.

The man-made structure, a historic source of water supply, surrounded by lush greenery, and located in Highland Park, has become a battleground in recent months.

Local park lovers and several elected officials disagreed with a Parks Department plan to build breaches, which would allow flood waters to drain, and roads at the site of the reservoir, while also cutting down nearly 500 trees.

The $6 million plan, the Parks Department said, was meant to comply with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation regulations, put in place after Hurricane Katrina.

The goal was to address the potential for flooding in the area of the reservoir, which the state DEC classified as a “high hazard” dam.

Under that classification, a failure of the reservoir could result in "widespread or serious damage...such that the loss of human life or widespread substantial economic loss is likely."

It was not clear when or why the Ridgewood Reservoir was given that classification.

Earlier this year, local activists started a petition protesting the plan and have garnered nearly 1,000 supporters as of Sept. 8.

In July, several elected officials, including Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, Rep. Grace Meng and state Assemblyman Mike Miller sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressing their concern that the proposed work would affect the park’s ecosystem.

“We are deeply concerned these changes will significantly harm the natural and largely undisturbed habitats of the animals that currently live there," the letter reads.

But last Wednesday, the Parks Department said that it has decided not to pursue the plan and is working to get the site reclassified as a “low hazard” dam.

The Parks Department said the new plan would eliminate the need to build culverts and roads in the park.

Lori Severino, a spokeswoman for the DEC, said the agency "will carefully consider the anticipated reclassification request.”

Local activists said they welcome the new plan.

“It makes sense and it should have happened originally,” said Gary Comorau, president of the Highland Park/Ridgewood Reservoir Alliance, a local advocacy group that promotes the site.

“It’s so spectacular,” he said about the park. “You don't feel like you're in New York City and we want to keep it this way.”

Several years ago, the park also underwent renovations which included repaving of pathways. A new handicap-accessible ramp was also added.

"After having recently invested millions to revitalize the Reservoir, it would be a crime [to] destroy and disturb the thriving natural wildlife," said Crowley, who called the site an "ecological gem."

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Friday, September 5, 2014

New York Daily News Article

The New York Daily News also just published a good story about recent developments with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation:

Ridgewood Reservoir could keep its wild appeal under new state plan

Advocates for the green oasis on the Brooklyn-Queens border have been fighting to preserve the natural parkland. State officials say the city may not need to cut culverts as part of an anti-flooding plan they originally mandated. State Department of Environmental Conservation will consider reclassifying the site as a non-hazardous dam.

BY Lisa L. Colangelo
Thursday, September 4, 2014, 8:33 PM

The Ridgewood Reservoir may get to stay wild.

The city may not need to cut culverts and roads through the green oasis in order to stave off the potential risk of flooding, state officials said this week.

It marked the first sign of victory for the activists who have been battling for seven years to protect the untamed 50-acre site, which has grown into a natural woodland since the reservior was closed more than two decades ago.

“There aren’t wild places left like this is New York,” said activist Robb Jett, who founded Save the Ridgewood Reservoir. “There’s more to gain to keep it as a natural area.”

State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens told lawmakers the area could be reclassified as a low-risk dam, a distinction that would eliminate the need for flooding mitigation measures currently required by state law.

The state will make that decision after it completes a review of information provided by the city Parks Department.

The news comes in time to head off a $6 million Parks project — mandated by the state — that opponents said would destroy the reservoir’s delicate ecosystem.

More than 150 species of migratory and resident birds use the lush area, Jett said.

Another activist, Christina Wilkinson, convinced eight local lawmakers earlier this year to sign a letter to Gov. Cuomo detailing the importance of preserving the site.

“This new plan will be great for the community because it preserves the natural environment of the park, prevents any new development,” said Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, who signed the letter. “And most importantly, (it) saves our taxpayers over $6 million.”

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Queens Chronicle Story

Good news travels fast! This article was published late this morning in the Queens Chronicle:

Ridgewood Reservoir to be reclassified?
by Christopher Barca, Reporter | Posted: Thursday, September 4, 2014 10:30 am
Ridgewood Reservoir to be reclassified?

Activists fighting for the reclassification of the Ridgewood Reservoir shouldn’t uncork the champagne just yet, but they may have scored a victory this week.

The Parks Department will apply to the state Department of Environmental Conservation for a redesignation of the reservoir, within Highland Park on the Glendale-Brooklyn border, from a Class C “high hazard” dam to a Class A “low hazard” dam, according to agency spokesman Zach Feder.

That could negate the need for a project that residents say would destroy the park by requiring the cutting down of almost 500 trees and the construction of roads that would negatively impact the habitat of many of the park’s wildlife species.

“Parks has discussed the prospect of instead reclassifying the reservoir as a Class A “low hazard” site with DEC, which would eliminate the need to create any breaches,” Feder said. “Parks is currently working on a package that we will submit to DEC in support of this reclassification.”

If the state DEC approves the agency’s reclassification application, the proposed two-year, $6 million culvert creation project mandated by the DEC will be deemed unnecessary and terminated.

The planned construction work would include creating large culverts in the embankments between the three basins of the park, one of which is filled with water.

According to the DEC, such work would reduce the risk of a breach of one or more of the basins during an unprecedented storm, which might lead to severe flooding in the surrounding areas.

However, residents and Community Board 5 have claimed that it would be nearly impossible for enough precipitation to fill the basins to a point where a potential breach will seriously threaten the surrounding area.

In recent months, area elected officials and activists have petitioned for the reclassification of the reservoir in their own way.

In a letter to Gov. Cuomo dated July 24, Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), Councilmembers Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale) and Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn, Queens), state Sens. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) and Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and state Assemblymembers Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) and Cathy Nolan (D-Sunnyside) expressed their concern over what the proposed work would do to the park’s ecosystem.

“The proposed work consists of breaching the berms that separate the Ridgewood Reservoir’s basins, building permanent access roads into this habitat, and cutting down at least 470 trees,” the letter reads. “We are concerned these changes will significantly harm the natural and largely undisturbed habitats of the animals that live there.”

Additionally, the preservation group Save Ridgewood Reservoir started a petition on the social change website to rally support for its cause in July. As of Wednesday, 793 people had signed it.

Many of the petition’s signatories are from the area, including Queens Civic Congress President Richard Hellenbrecht and New York City Audubon President Harrison Maas, but some from as far away as Kentucky left messages of encouragement.

“This is a rich environmental habitat,” Hellenbrecht wrote, “and offers a unique perspective of NYC history and must be maintained in its natural state.”

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Letter From Commissioner Martens

We just received a copy of the response letter from NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens. It appears that pressure from our elected officials, our petition and hard work from everyone in the community may finally be paying off. A success party may still be a bit premature, but this is the best bit of good news that we've had in a long time:

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Budget Hearing Article

Here's a recent article from the Times Newsweekly that mentions community support for funds to preserve the reservoir:


Neighborhood Participates In Funding Process For First Time
by Noah Zuss

Residents attended a participatory budgeting info session at the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council (GRYC) on Wednesday, Aug. 13 to engage in the process that allows individuals to choose which capital projects to fund in their district.

This fourth session––held at the GRYC Summerfield Street headquarters––was organized by City Council MemberAntonio Reynoso to engage the community and educate residents on the process that will determine how to spend $1 million in discretionary funds.

This year marks the first time the process will used in the district, which covers Ridgewood south and west of Myrtle and Forest avenues and parts of Bushwick East Williamsburg and Williamsburg. Council members allocate a portion of discretionary funds to the process––Reynoso chose to earmark $1 million, but can choose to increase that number.

The meeting last Wednesday represented the infancy of the process, Ava Farkas, director of community organizing for Reynoso’s office, said. At the session, volunteer sign-up sheets and a presentation on how participatory budgeting works were distributed so residents could get involved, and learn more about the instrument.

The overarching goal of the process is to increase community involvement in budgeting decisions, it was noted.

“Public budgets are your money,” Farkas said.

After a lawmaker chooses to allocate a certain amount of money, neighborhood assemblies are held, which will begin in September and run through November; then delegate meetings to develop proposals on what projects the community wants funded will run through February; project expos to explain the various projects will be organized through March; and a vote will be collected from March through April.

Members of the community 16 years of age or older are eligible to vote, and will be given a list of five projects to choose the ones they want funded. The process is now used in 1,500 cities and towns, with nine council district’s last year, and 23 this year, Farkas stated.

“There is a million dollars at stake that Council Member Reynoso wants to spend in the district,” GRYC President Bob Monahan said. “You’re going to get to decide how it’s spent on a capital perspective.”

Those in attendance were asked to present their ideas on capital projects to fund.

Ideas from the groups included funds to preserve the Ridgewood Reservoir in it’s current state and not to breach it as the Parks Department has planned, more playgrounds in the area, more Greenstreets and green spaces in the district, funds for more and better bathrooms at local parks and a community garden atop the former Joseph Garity American Legion Post, which will soon house GRYC programs and services.

“We want to preserve the Ridgewood Reservoir,” Tom Dowd, a long-time resident, said. “It’s a good place to do real science. It’s still an incredibly beautiful place. We think that’s one good project.”

Another resident proposed a recreation center for kids that offers sports programs.

Participatory budgeting was first used in Porta Allegre, Brazil, and has since been implemented in Chicago, Toronto and Vallejo, Calif.

In the last cycle, $12 million was spent in council districts using participatory budgeting, Farkas said.

Farkas and Kevin Worthington, also of Reynoso’s office, presented an exercise to outline for residents what is meant by capital versus expense funding.

After using projects examples to define the differences, Worthington told attendees, “You’re ready for P. B., congratulations.”

Capital funding is brick and mortar projects that will ast at least five years. Only capital projects that cost over $35,000 and less than one million can be nominated, Farkas stated.

Only residents of the 34th District may vote in the election, it was noted.

To become a budget delegate, an individual must be at least 14 years old. They must live, work, own a business, go to school or have a child in school in the district. Immigration status is not a factor.

Many ways to engage exist, Worthington and Farkas noted, including coming to a neighborhood assembly, becoming a budget delegate, voting on projects and spreading the word. Volunteers are also needed for phone banking, translation services, child care. Food for meetings, and meeting spaces are also always needed, Worthington said.

“Being a volunteer really means outreach and spreading the word,” Farkas said.

District committee meetings will begin this week, she noted.

“You can really make an impact in the community,” volunteer Heather Hatton said. “You can really do anything if you have the votes.”
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Monday, August 25, 2014

Basin Path Before and After

I thought you'd appreciate this comparison of the path between basins 2 and 3 before and after the Phase 1 work was completed. The two images were shot in essentially the same location. I took the recent photo when leading a tour for the Newtown Historic Society on August 17th.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Some Old Images of the Reservoir

Here are some great images that I found on the Brooklyn Museum's digital collection website:

Caption: George Bradford Brainerd (American, 1845-1887). Ridgewood Reservoir, Brooklyn, ca. 1872-1887.

This was taken prior to the addition of basin 3. The view is from the north-west corner facing the gatehouse between basins 1 and 2. Today you would be standing in the middle of the Jackie Robinson Parkway.

Caption: George Bradford Brainerd (American, 1845-1887). View from the Influx, Ridgewood, Brooklyn, ca. 1872-1887.

Caption: George Bradford Brainerd (American, 1845-1887). Entrance of to Ridgewood Reservoir, Brooklyn, June 23, 1874.

Caption: George Bradford Brainerd (American, 1845-1887). Reservoir Engine House from East End, Ridgewood, Brooklyn, July 23, 1874.

Brooklyn Water Works, Pumping Station, Ridgewood, 1899. Near 1 Wells Street. The Ridgewood pumping station opened in the 1860s; this building was added to the south side in 1890. It was cleared in the 1940s to make way for Conduit Boulevard construction and the new East New York Vocational High School.

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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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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Queens Courier Article

The following was just published in the Queens Courier:

Local politicians urge city to delay Ridgewood Reservoir plans

By Eric Jankiewicz
Monday, July 28th, 2014 2:30 PM EDT

A plan to alter the Ridgewood Reservoir is being challenged by several local politicians, who say proposed “changes will significantly harm the natural and largely undisturbed habitats of the animals that currently live there.”

The letter, sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday, was written in response to a meeting held in Glendale on June 30. During that meeting the Parks Department outlined a plan to connect the three water basins that make up the reservoir together by “creating three very large breaches in the reservoir’s surrounding berms,” according to the letter. The plan has been controversial and many community members have argued against making any changes to the old reservoir.

The reservoir is made up of three water basins that are isolated from one another sitting on 50 acres of land, according to the Parks Department. The reservoir originally supplied water to Brooklyn until 1959 and has since become a park that is home to an array of wildlife. Some of the wetland plants in the reservoir are on the endangered and threatened lists.

The Parks Department proposed the changes because it claims that the resevoir is currently a flood hazard.

“We ask that the NYC Parks Department be granted a waiver so they can delay the proposed work,” the politicians wrote in the letter in response to the plans. The politicians argue that along with disturbing animal habitats and cutting down 470 trees, the construction is a waste of money.

“The proposed project to breach the dam of the Ridgewood Reservoir will cost the city at least $6 million. We believe that there are many other areas where the city can spend this money including building more schools, improving our infrastructure, upgrading our transportation system, and many other capital requests that our Community Boards have highlighted.”

The letter was signed by state Sens. Joseph Addabbo and Michael Gianaris, Assemblyman Michael Miller, Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, Councilman Antonio Reynoso and U.S Reps. Nydia Velazquez and Grace Meng.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

End of the Road?

After over 7 years of Brooklyn and Queens residents fighting to prevent the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation from needlessly spending millions of taxpayer's dollars to destroy an environmentally significant 50 acre site, it appears that we are nearing the end of the road.

On Monday, June 30, 2014, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, along with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, held a public meeting at St. Pancras School in Glendale, Queens. The purpose of the meeting was to answer questions about the imminent decommissioning process of the Ridgewood Reservoir, which, according to the parks department application to the NYSDEC, would involve creating three very large breaches in the reservoir's surrounding berms. In fact, one would be large enough to allow trucks to enter the basins and drive along a roadway that will be constructed. You can read some of the media coverage of the meeting here. I was not completely happy with the coverage as most of the reporters seemed to have overlooked some of the most significant revelations during the question and answer period.

The meeting represented the climax of the parks department's campaign of misleading the community about their intentions and being completely disingenuous over the past 7 years when it came to responding to the community's desires and concerns. In 2007 the parks department began a series of public meetings entitled "Community Listening Sessions Regarding Future Plans for the Ridgewood Reservoirs". What, on the surface, appeared to be a genuine interest in the public's aspirations for their future use of this unintentional nature sanctuary, soon became clear was merely lip service as they had already decided on the area's long term development. When the community unequivocally declared that they did not want the reservoir basins developed, the parks department responded by having a second set of surveys filled out by a group who was shilling for their plan. It should come as no surprise to anyone that, despite past assurances, the parks department will be breaching the basins, creating roads and ramps to allow truck access and giving permission to the contractors to "dewater" (drain) the work basins as needed. All this will happen despite the fact that the parks department's own contractors determined that not only is the site ecologically significant, but certainly wetlands and that the basins contain at least 3 endangered species of plants.

Here is a summary of the June 30th meeting:

Agency participants:

Joelle Byrer, NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, Queens Capital Team Leader
Jonna Carmona-Graf, NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, Chief of Capital Management
Thomas Panzone, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Regional Citizen Participation Specialist
Alon Dominitz, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Chief of Dam Safety
Venetia Lannon, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Region 2 Director
Steven Zahn, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Regional Natural Resources Supervisor

Also present but did not participate in the meeting was NYC Department of Parks and Recreation park administrator Debbie Kuha.

Moderator: Thomas Panzone

The meeting began with an introduction by Venetia Lannon. Two years ago Ms. Lannon visited the reservoir with members of Queens Community Board 5. I was present for the tour and while speaking positively about the site's habitat, she made no commitment to her agency responding to our wetlands mapping application.

Ms. Lannon gave a brief intro pertaining to the purpose of the meeting, which was mainly to hear the community's concerns about the decommissioning process. This was motivated, primarily, by all the letters they received from community groups and political leaders questioning the reservoir's designation. She started by describing the physical properties of a dam as being any structure that can impound water. According to her, the reason why the Ridgewood Reservoir's basins were classified as "Class C, High Hazard" was that in 2009 the standards were upgraded following Hurricane Irene. However, after the meeting I was informed by a lawyer from the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project that, in fact, standards were actually raised after the September 11th attacks out of fears of terrorists targeting dams. Ms. Lannon continued that the plan by engineers hired by the parks department is to prevent the dam from holding any water. She tried to assure us that the plan would not change the hydrology of the area. That assurance was contradicted later in the meeting when Alon Dominitz of the NYSDEC claimed that the basins held water because of the design's clay liner, which would be punctured during the construction (or deconstruction). I'm not an expert, but I'm guessing puncturing the clay liners would significantly alter the site's hydrology.

Venetia Lannon's brief presentation was followed by a 4 slide slideshow from Joelle Byrer, the parks department's Queens Capital Team Leader. She began with a description and overview of the three basins. One of the main points of contention would be the creation of an access road through the basin. This road would run directly through the wet meadow and wetland habitat at the south end of the basin. When the breaches are completed the road will continue to be used to remove invasive trees and other plant species and to allow their replacement with native plants. Ms. Byrer also presented three slides of the elevations and plans for each breach. I would have requested copies of those slides for this posting, but given past experience, was concerned it would take too long:

At the conclusion of this segment Thomas Panzone moderated a question and answer period. Here is a summary of the more important questions.

Steve Fiedler, the chair of the parks and conservation committee of Queens Community Board 5 wanted to know why they needed such a heavy handed approach, referencing the 11' x 15' tunnel into basin 3 and construction roadway within it. The response only reiterated that they needed to decommission the "dams" and that they planned to use the roadway afterwards to remove invasion plants.

Tom Dowd of the Earth Society Foundation expressed the frustration that many in the community have been feeling when he demanded of the NYSDEC why after 3 years they have still not responded to the application for wetlands protection. He followed with, "How much rain do they expect it would take to destabilize the reservoir?" Steven Zahn, NYSDEC Regional Natural Resources Supervisor, said he never acted on the wetlands protection application because they were understaffed and that Hurricane Sandy issues had made Ridgewood Reservoir a low priority. Regarding the second question, NYSDEC's Chief of Dam Safety, Alon Dominitz responded that he didn't know.

A second question by Steve Fiedler inquired exactly how many trees will be removed from basin 3. Parks representatives estimated 262 "invasive and non-viable trees". He later asked, "You plan on removing over 208 mature trees, how old will the replacement trees be?" Jonna Carmona-Graf of parks Capital Projects replied that they will be an average of 2 - 3 inches in diameter.

Annie Wilson, a lawyer with the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, asked the NYSDEC representatives, "Where does our application stand in the cue and how long will it take to follow up?" NYSDEC Regional Natural Resources Supervisor Steve Zahn replied that there are currently no other applications ahead of us, but that he didn't know how long it would take. Following up, Ms. Wilson asked if they can hold off on the breaching for the wetland mapping to be addressed. Jonna Carmona-Graf of the Department of Parks and Recreation replied, "No", although this question was asked to NYSDEC. Mr. Zahn did not respond to this question.

When asked if there were any future projects planned for the basin's interiors, Ms. Bryer responded that there is currently no funding for any development.

Representing the Highland Park/Ridgewood Reservoir Alliance, I pointed out that Round Mt. Ecological, LLC., contractors hired by parks, identified the south end of basin 3 as wetland habitat. My question was, "Did you not refer to that report before designing the roadway through the south end of the basin?" Jonna Carmona-Graf replied that they looked at the basin again and it's not really a wetland anymore. I should also point out that during a meeting at Oak Ridge in 2007 I asked Ms. Carmona-Graf when we could receive a copy of the report from Round Mt. Ecological, LLC. She replied that they needed to read through it first then decide what they'd be releasing to the public. Thankfully we were able to acquire a copy through another source.

Charles Monaco of the HPRRA asked, "Will the decommissioning design take into consideration the historic architectural features and artifacts of the basin?" Responses from both Ms. Byrer and Ms. Carmona-Graf were vague and seemed to indicate that they would not take them into account. What their answers did reveal, however, was that the construction process would also include building an earthen ramp into basin 1 to allow truck access. According to both the Round Mt. report and a report by NYS certified wetlands delineator Mickey Cohen, basin 1 contains the most sensitive habitat of the entire site.

Steve Zahn of the NYSDEC was asked why hasn't this decommissioning application caused his agency to push the wetlands protection application further along. His answer was appallingly unprofessional, as well as, non committal. He said, "Nothing led them to believe that the environment was in danger of imminent development." Followed by, "We will take a hard look at basin 3."

As an admitted virtual outsider attending his first meeting, Brooklyn Bird Club President Rob Bate tried to understand the dynamics of mistrust between the various factions. He explained that, what he inferred from all the published material, was the community didn't want active recreational facilities within any of the basins and that they didn't trust the parks department's commitment to that desire. His question to the parks department was, "Do we have your assurance that no active recreation facilities will ever be built within basin 3?" Ms. Carmona-Graf's response was very significant. She replied, "At this time we don't have any plans." With further questioning she would only say that they don't have any capital projects planned short term, but wouldn't commit to anything regarding protecting the basins in the future.

The whole issue of the Ridgewood Reservoir being designated by the NYSDEC as a Class C, High Hazard dam revolves around the agency's duty to protect the public from, in this case, torrents of uncontrolled water spilling through populated areas, destroying lives and property. To anybody familiar with the Ridgewood Reservoir, this concern seems utterly preposterous and the millions of dollars necessary to prevent that situation an incredible waste of taxpayer's money. The following question, which was likely on most people's minds was asked to Alon Dominitz, Chief of Dam Safety, NYSDEC. What scenario do you anticipate would create the catastrophic conditions that would cause the dams to fail and what is the probability of it occurring? Mr. Dominitz proceeded to describe the two most common types of failure mechanisms of earthen dams. One is "overtopping". Overtopping is self explanatory and involves more water ending up in a reservoir than it can contain. The second mechanism is called "piping". According to the website, piping is "internal erosion caused by seepage. Seepage often occurs around hydraulic structures, such as pipes and spillways; through animal burrows; around roots of woody vegetation; and through cracks in dams, dam appurtenances, and dam foundations." There is no permanent standing water in basins 1 and 3, and only 2 feet to 5 feet of water in basin 2 (nobody has actually done any water depth tests in basin 2), so concern for a catastrophe from piping action is absurd. He could not answer the question about the conditions that would cause either situations in the Ridgewood Reservoir basins nor the probability.

In an attempt to establish a historical context for the breaching of the Ridgewood Reservoir it was asked if there are there any Class D, Low Hazard dams within 25 miles of NYC and can they be visited. In addition, of these, how many were breached to become Class D? Alon Dominitz replied that he didn't know, but could probably provide that information. A follow-up question concerned who actually made the decision to classify the Ridgewood Reservoir as a Class C High Hazard dam? Was it the Commissioner of the NYSDEC? Mr. Dominitz replied that it was "a staff decision".

Based on information gleaned from the "FINAL Ridgewood Reservoir Permit" application, I asked, "What is the actual mechanism and purpose of the breaches? Is it to allow any built up water to flow from one basin to the other then into the storm drain on Vermont Place?" Nobody from the NYSDEC would volunteer an answer, but Ms. Carmona-Graf replied that "it is to create a breach". I tried to reword the question but she would only say that the purpose of the "breaches was to create breaches".

Annie Wilson from the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project continued her questioning about the wetland protection application that was submitted several years ago. She asked if we could revisit the classification process. Also, "What is the August deadline about?" According to the NYSDEC, not decommissioning the dam is a violation of the Environmental Conservation Statutes. When asked if we could we get a waiver, Mr. Zahn replied that there are extensions, but that the NYSDEC has never given one. He added, though, that he will take it into consideration.

Finally, Vincent Arcuri, Chair of Queens Community Board 5, asked if representatives of the NYSDEC and NYC Department of Park and Recreation would consider meeting with the community board to discuss an extension for the decommissioning process in order to allow for the application for wetlands protection and mapping to be completed. They responded that they would agree to meet with the community board.

It is unclear to everyone involved with trying to protect this natural gem on the Brooklyn/Queens border why the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation is so set on destroying habitat rather than saving and enhancing it. At a press conference in 2004 when the NYC Department of Environmental Protection turned over the deed to parks, Mayor Bloomberg referred to it as an "untended wetland". The former mayor's PlaNYC 2030 called for a new wetlands initiative to expand and enhance existing state and federal wetlands protection. It seems as though that forward thinking concept has fallen by the wayside, at least with regard to the Ridgewood Reservoir's habitats.

This issue has attracted the attention of and assistance from a wide range of individuals, political leaders, community organizations and conservation groups. Throughout the past 7 years one question kept arising - Why would a city agency charged with protecting green spaces be trying so hard, and against the wishes of the people they are supposed to be serving, to devastate a nature habitat the likes of which New York City haven't seen in centuries? Many people think that, perhaps, a favor is owed to someone that will be repaid in the form of a lucrative contract. Others feel that it is merely the result of governmental mismanagement. There is even the theory that without this project some people in Capital Projects would be out of a job. Conjecture abounds, but I don't think we will ever know the truth behind this major screw up if it in fact does proceed as the parks department plans. The Ridgewood Reservoir would forever represent poor planning, mismanagement and lost opportunities in the annals of New York City government. This evolving urban hardwood forest, wetlands, wildlife magnet and the extraordinary educational opportunities it would have afforded New Yorkers will never happen again.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

More Parks Department Atrocities

It was just brought to our attention by one of our supporters that the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation has no problem destroying wetlands. In their "FINAL Ridgewood Reservoir Permit" application is a section labeled Item No. XX, "TEMPORARY WATER CONTROL AND DEWATERING". In essence, it states that the contractor will have the discretionary power to DRAIN THE BASIN if the water is felt to be in the way of the intended work. Keep in mind that the parks department's own environmental contractor (Round Mt. Ecologic LLC) had deemed most of the area to be wetlands. We also hired an independent, certified wetlands delineator who arrived at the same conclusions.

I'll be posting a summary of Monday's public meeting with the NYCDPR and NYSDEC shortly. In the meantime, here is Section XX from the permit application:




WORK: This section specifies the removal and control of all water in the work area in order to permit all excavation, construction, installation, and related decommissioning activity to be performed “in the dry.” The work under this section includes the furnishing of all labor, equipment, supplies, materials and utilities required for the operation, maintenance and supervision of the control of all water, including surface water and groundwater, such that all construction within this Contract can proceed unhindered by water and flow into or through the work areas. All work shall be performed in accordance with the Contract Documents and to the satisfaction of the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation (NYCDPR) and its Resident Engineer.

Ridgewood Reservoir was formerly utilized as a water supply distribution reservoir by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP), but is no longer in service. The reservoir basins have been disconnected from the water distribution system and drained. The Contractor should be aware Basin 2 (Middle Basin) continues to impound an area of standing water. The Contractor is hereby made aware that the NYCDPR has no control over inflows into the work area. Major rainfall events may cause the water level in the basins to rise and lead to potential inundation of the work site.

The Contractor shall be responsible for determining the need for and the means and methods of implementing water control, including dewatering, during the work of the Contract, except as specifically stated herein and in other Sections. The Resident Engineer will monitor conditions at the site and the effects of water levels and flows on the Work. If, in the Resident Engineer’s opinion, the presence of water has the potential to create a deleterious effect on the Work, then the Contractor shall take measures to control such water to the satisfaction of the Resident Engineer at no additional cost to the NYCDPR.

The Contractor shall remove all pumped water away from the work area, and provide sedimentation controls in accordance with all applicable local codes and law as well as the Sedimentation and Erosion Control and Surface Water Control Sections of the Contract Documents. Effluent shall be discharged back into the basins. The Contractor shall take all necessary precautions to prevent flow or seepage back into excavations. All handling and disposal of surface water shall be in accordance with regulations set forth by federal, state, and local agencies. Discharge into storm drains is specifically precluded.

ADHERENCE TO REGULATORY CONDITIONS: All work shall comply with all codes, rules, regulations, laws and ordinances and executed in conformance with any permits, licenses etc., as issued by the State of New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation (NYCDPR), the City of New York, and all other authorities having jurisdiction within the project areas. All work necessary to make the work site comply with such requirements shall be provided without additional cost to the NYCDPR.

The Contractor shall procure all other required permits and licenses, (except for those to be obtained by the NYCDPR as stated herein), pay all charges, fees and taxes and shall give all notices necessary and incidental to the due and lawful prosecution of the work under this Contract. The cost thereof shall be included in the prices bid for the various items specified herein for the work of this Contract. Copies of all required permits and licenses shall be filed with the NYCDPR prior to the beginning of the work.

The Contractor shall be responsible for submitting a Notice of Intent (NOI) General Permit for the State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (Construction Stormwater General Permit) – NY SPDES. As part of this process, the Contractor shall be responsible for developing a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) for the Project Site, which shall be submitted to the NYCDPR for review and comment. In any event, the Contractor shall be required to develop and submit an Erosion and Sediment Control Plan in accordance with the Contract Drawings. The Plan will encompass the implementation of sediment, erosion, and water control performance specifications. All temporary dewatering and water control measures must be installed and maintained in accordance with the approved sediment and erosion control plan (or SWPPP).


1. Not less than ten (10) days prior to the scheduled start of work, the Contractor shall submit his proposed method of controlling surface water, groundwater, and maintaining dry conditions, to the Engineer for review. The submittal shall include as a minimum the following items:

• The Contractor's proposed design, sequence of operation, maintenance and supervision of the surface water and groundwater control systems, as needed for each phase of the work, and coordination with temporary groundwater control and temporary cofferdams.

• Design of temporary cofferdams, if necessary.

• The Contractor's proposed contingency plan for additional water control and dewatering

measures for all systems in the event of cofferdam or pumping system failure.

• Scheduling requirements with regard to Sedimentation Control and temporary cofferdam installation.

• The Contractor's proposed contingency plan for potential flooding of the work area. The contingency plan should address, but not to be limited to: handling flooding of the work area, emergency signaling procedures, health and safety plan, and removing equipment and materials from the work area.

2. New York State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (General Permit for Stormwater Discharges from Construction Activity) – NY SPDES. The NY SPDES Construction General Permit is available at the NYSDEC website: (

PUMPS, HOSES, SIPHONS, CONDUITS: Conduit, pipes, or siphons used at the site shall be sized accordingly and shall be maintained in good working order by the Contractor. Other pumps or hoses, if any, used by the Contractor shall be sized appropriately and also maintained in good working order by the Contractor.

Pumps shall be operated in a manner which does not create a nuisance to abutters (i.e. quietly and without significant exhaust).

Fuel for pumps and generators must be located such that fuel cannot be released. Secondary containment shall be provided for gasoline or diesel-powered electrical generators and pumping equipment.

Pipes used for water control and/or diversions shall be sized appropriately and shall be in good condition without leaks or cracks. Pipe pressure ratings shall be adequate for static head loading when pressure flow is expected. Pipe joints shall be watertight and installed as per the manufacturer’s recommendations.

EXECUTION: This section defines the intent of water control work, but the Contractor shall ultimately be responsible for means and methods and compliance with the specification will be judged on a performance criteria. The Contractor shall submit a water control plan to the NYCDPR for review and may, at that time, propose alternative water control strategies. The Contractor’s water control plan must however satisfy the terms and conditions of all permits issued to the project.

The Contractor shall maintain ready access to back-up electrical generators, fuel, pumps, hoses and related equipment and supplies with output capacity sufficient to maintain continuous operation of the primary water control system and backup system in the event the original dewatering or water control equipment or power source(s) which is in use becomes inoperable. The back-up generator, pumps and necessary equipment and supplies shall be capable of rapid deployment for replacement of the inoperable equipment.

The Contractor shall take all reasonable and prudent precautions during construction to provide and maintain proper equipment and facilities to control and divert water. Extra vigilance in monitoring any cofferdam structure is vital since dislodgement of such a structure could cause injury to workers within.

If necessary, water control systems shall be operated continuously during all construction specified herein. The operation time may include breaks, nights, weekends, holidays and other times when work is not otherwise being performed on the site. The Contractor shall be responsible for protecting his equipment from damage due to vandalism.

Where the Contractor proposes to remove water from the bottom of the work area by sumping as approved by the Resident Engineer, the intake must be placed within a perforated pipe and the annular space between the pipe and the sump pit (as well as the bottom of the pit) must be filled with Crushed Stone as submitted by the Contractor. Filter fabric may also be used if necessary. Pumping from sumps which remove fines from the soil shall be immediately terminated and the dewatering method revised accordingly.

Pumps, siphons, pipes, channels, etc. shall be sized appropriately. Any cofferdam / barrier shall be constructed of such materials and to such extents that it will withstand the forces and pressures exerted by flows and depths of a reasonable expected magnitude. The cofferdams / barriers shall be compatible with other dewatering, water control, and sedimentation control procedures. Dewatering equipment shall be provided as needed to remove water from subgrades as well as the interior areas of any cofferdams / barriers.

All cofferdams / barriers constructed by the Contractor shall be completely removed upon the completion of the Project. All material shall be legally disposed of off-site at the Contractor’s expense. No material shall be left within the Work area.

The Contractor shall make provisions to prevent flow through excavations or work areas exiting the basins expeditiously in the event of a flood which threatens to overwhelm the water control system or cause increased water levels which might lead to damage at the embankments, or other property outside of the basins.

Pumps must be operated in such a way as to not disturb abutters (e.g. noise). Adequate noise suppression shall be provided. Generators, pumps, or other equipment shall adhere to the limits of New York City regulations governing noise. Pump intakes shall be placed so as to reduce the potential for sediment entrainment and pump discharge points shall make provisions for reducing erosion potential through energy dissipation, riprap protection, etc.

Dewatering systems shall be operated continuously and groundwater levels monitored and maintained at specified levels during all construction specified herein. The operation time is to include breaks, nights, weekends, holidays and other times when work is not otherwise being performed on the site. The Contractor shall be responsible for protecting his equipment from damage due to vandalism.

The Contractor may stage his dewatering plan such that dewatering and groundwater control is limited to areas where work is or soon will be occurring. Groundwater control may cease when the Contractor and NYCDPR and its Resident Engineer are satisfied that groundwater will no longer affect the Work of the Contract or the integrity of the structure in the area.

Groundwater levels in excavations shall be maintained at least two feet (2’) below subgrade.

Discharge water shall be passed through sedimentation chambers, basins, “Silt socks,” “Dirt Bags,” or other proprietary devices which mitigate turbidity delivered to receiving waters. These devices should have a supplemental perimeter line of turbidity curtains or siltation barrier.

MEASUREMENT AND PAYMENT: No measurement will be made for temporary surface water control and dewatering. The bid item under this section is a single LUMP SUM quantity.

The price bid shall be a LUMP SUM and shall include the cost of all labor, materials, equipment, testing, and incidental expenses necessary to complete the work in accordance with the Contract Documents, to the satisfaction of the Engineer.


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