More on turbidity in Lower Esopus Creek

When you write about a topic that’s as complicated as NYC’s reservoir system, it’s really hard to pack all the details into one story.

We tried to be as thorough as possible with our report today (read it here) on the health of the Lower Esopus Creek and how it’s connected to releases, or lack thereof, from the Ashokan Reservoir.

When NYC releases tubid water from the reservoir, the Lower Esopus turns into chocolate-milky water. When the city doesn’t make releases, the creek slows to a trickle and pools in some spots.

Here are some of the other critical details we couldn’t crowbar into the story. They’re worth mentioning.



The above photo was given to me by a friend in Ulster County. It’s a snapshot from Oct. 12 at the confluence of the Lower Esopus Creek and the Saw Kill.

This photo is important because it shows a clear line between the turbid water coming from the Lower Esopus via the Ashokan Reservoir, compared to the relatively clear water of the Saw Kill. As local advocates have pointed out in their letter to the state, environmental standards for turbidity say there should be “no increase that will cause a substantial visible contrast to natural conditions.”

It’s clearly visible here.


We ran across two real-world effects of the unhealthy Esopus.

1) On days when the Lower Esopus is so shallow that you can walk across it, the Town of Ulster seems to run into problems maintaining effluent standards. The town’s sewage treatment plant puts effluent into the Lower Esopus. But on days when there is not enough water in the creek to properly dillute the effluent, Ulster comes close to violating state standards.

Town Supervisor Jim Quigley said he’s not sure if that’s because the Ashokan Reservoir holds back water from the creek, but he said its pretty clear that releases from the reservoir would help the town’s problem.

“As the water flow decreases, there is a potential for our discharge to have an unanticipated effect on Mother Nature,” he said.

2) Farmers use water from the Lower Esopus to irrigate their crops. But when NYC discharges turbid water into the creek, farmers fear they could violate Good Agricultural Practices standards that allow them to sell their food on the market. The cleanliness of water is one of the factors that determines whether a farm gets the GAP seal of approval. And the GAP seal of approval can determine whether your farm thrives or dives.


Paul Rush, NYC’s assistant commission for water supply, told the Times Herald-Record that DEP never studied whether turbid water affects the flora and fauna of the Lower Esopus.

That’s the bad news.

The good news?

Rush said the DEP would be willing to chat with local communities about operating the Ashokan differently and, perhaps, releasing clean water to mollify some of these problems.

Locals see it as a good sign. Three or four years ago, the DEP might not have been as willing to chat. Members of the Lower Esopus Watershed Partnership and others have noticed a recent change of heart at the DEP, which seems to realize more that downstream issues are just as important for keeping the peace as the reservoirs are for providing drinking water.

Now, locals said, Ulster County will see if that means the Lower Esopus gets the water it needs, too.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form.
  • Categories

  • Archives