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Editorial: Reservoirs for recreation

Editorial: Reservoirs for recreation

New York City makes good move opening its Catskill reservoirs to recreation

Last fall, there was great concern about what would happen if all that water in the Schoharie Reservoir got out. The norm, of course, is for it to stay in, but the locals still tend to resent the fact that what could be a vast playground is largely off-limits. New York City, which owns the reservoir, has just made a lot of people in Schoharie County feel better, with an announcement that it will soon open the reservoir to more recreational uses.

As the Great Sacandaga has shown, a reservoir can be a great place to boat, swim, fish, etc. But Sacandaga was built for flood control, while the city’s reservoirs were built to hold drinking water. The city is understandably concerned about protecting the water quality, which is why, as part of a 1995 agreement with the state and local governments in the Catskills, it committed to spending $1.4 billion over 10 years on measures such as erosion control, sewage treatment and runoff prevention. The agreement allowed the city to avoid water filitration costs estimated at between $4 billion and $6 billion.

But protecting water quality need not preclude recreational uses. In the past, the only activity the city permitted on its Catskill reservoirs was fishing, and only in metal rowboats. But three years ago it started a pilot program on the Cannonsville Reservoir in Delaware County, allowing canoes, kayaks, sculls and small sailboats as well as rowboats, for fishing or just boating. Temporary passes were made available, good for up to seven days, and seasonal passes, good from Memorial Day to Columbus Day.

There have been no problems to speak of at Cannonsville, and the city now plans to open up the Schoharie and two other reservoirs, the Neversink and Pepacton, come May. Boat launches, portable toilets and informational kiosks will be added. The city will also open more of its watershed lands to hiking and hunting.

For those who haven’t visited any of these reservoirs, they are worth a trip. They’re huge, containing billions of gallons of water held back by an impressive dam. They’re also remote, quiet and scenic, like being somewhere in the Adirondacks, with the same potential for tourism and economic development. New York City is making available a great recreational resource. People should take advantage.

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