Cooperatove Conservation Project

NYC Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program

Rural Conservation Protects the City’s Drinking Water

Location: Northeastern/Mid-Atlantic Region: Delaware New York

Project Summary: New York City, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), agricultural producers, and others address non-point source pollution through voluntary programs that protect stream corridors and working land.
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Fencing and riparian buffer plantings protect a watercourse on a farm in a typical Catskill‘s landscape. (Photo Courtesy NYC DEP)
Resource Challenge
The Delaware and Catskill watersheds are heavily forested, dotted with farms and woodlands that are primarily in private ownerships.  These watersheds supply more than a billion gallons of water daily, representing 90 percent of the drinking water to New York City’s nine million consumers. The watershed is a “working  landscape” that has supported agriculture, recreation, and forest based economies for generations.
In 1990, in an effort to avoid building a filtration plant—with  construction costs of more than $2 billion and annual operating costs  of $300 million—the City adopted a voluntary pollution control project.  In 1991, the City initiated a Watershed Agricultural Program administered by the farmer-led Watershed Agricultural Council  (WAC), representing all stakeholders.  A complimentary Watershed  Forestry Program was created in 1997 to promote best management  practices (BMP) to control erosion, runoff, and sediment from logging  operations.
Examples of Key Partners
New York City Department of Environmental Protection and WAC, USDA Farm Service Agency, USDA Natural Resources Conservation  Service, USDA Forest Service, County Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Cornell Cooperative Extension, New York Department  of Environmental Conservation, farm and forestry organizations,  landowners, and environmental organizations
Results and Accomplishments
The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), part of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), was initiated in 1998 by the city and various Federal, State and local agencies to provide incentives for installing conservation practices such as vegetated streamside buffers, fences, animal crossings, and watering systems.  Through tours and other outreach efforts in the community, more than 130 farmers enrolled in CREP. These participants collectively installed 150 linear miles of streamside buffers. New York City has committed $100 million to support CREP and other programs since 1992.
The Forestry Program has assisted private forest landowners with forest stewardship practices that protect and enhance water quality and has provided training and assistance on best management practices for landowners and loggers.  Since 1996, 404 forest management  plans covering 73,000 acres have been completed.  The USDA  Forest Service has provided nearly $3.9 million in funds and technical assistance since 2002, and has supported the planting of 600 acres of riparian buffers.
It is difficult to link specific improvements to site-specific efforts; however, extensive sampling in 2002 and 2003 showed that average concentrations of potential disease-causing organisms remained well below Federal limits.
Five years of monitoring water quality at one farm post-BMP implementation showed that annual phosphorous loads dropped  by 30 percent. CREP-specific studies show that phosphorus loads drop by an average of 32 percent after cattle are excluded from streambanks.

Voluntary attainment of water quality standards using existing, innovative programs and technical assistance is helping to protect drinking water for millions of consumers in the New York City metropolitan area.

Project Contact
Larry Beckhardt
Program Director
NYC Department of



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