Overview and Thank Yous

Thanks to the dedication of our volunteers, staff, and program partners, NYC H2O is marking another successful year of environmental education and stewardship in all five boroughs. We remained adaptive to the ebb and flow of COVID safety protocols to offer a mixture of in-person and virtual programming to students and community members, covering new topics including subway reefs and medicinal plants. We expanded our walking tours into lesser-tread areas of Staten Island, facilitated new arts programming at the Ridgewood Reservoir, made great strides toward keeping invasive species at the Reservoir in check, and hosted 13 cleanups at beaches and gardens throughout NYC. As always, we appreciate all of the generous support of the NYC City Council, our Board of Directors, donors, foundations, H2O members and hundreds of volunteers for making the activities of 2021 possible.

STEM and Water Ecology Education

In-person field trips were able to resume but the DOE bus moratorium and evolving rules kept many schools from visiting our traditional sites. NYC H2O guides worked hard to problem solve and address these obstacles, and often were able to improvise tailor-made outdoor learning trips to the greenspaces closest to these impacted schools. These trips to sites such as Marine Park and Wolfe’s Pond introduced students to plants, wildlife, and water systems in their own backyards.

Most of the students who attend our field trips are from Title I & III schools where students come from low-income backgrounds or are English Language Learners, and typically have limited opportunities to explore urban parks and natural areas; many have never been on field trips outside their neighborhood. COVID-19 has only exacerbated these pre-existing disparities and STEM educational gaps by further limiting access to the spectrum of outdoor learning settings in NYC. Our virtual STEM lessons continued as a safe alternative in lieu of outdoor options for classes. These virtual lessons allowed students to learn about the beauty and ecological importance of NYC’s water environment and engineering from inside their classrooms.

NYC H2O Website

NYC H2O’s website received an overhaul in 2021 thanks to Dominic Mensah, who redesigned the site with improvements on every page, from the newly updated video gallery to the “NYC H2O Hub,” a suite of interactive online lessons using cutting edge Geographic Information System (GIS) technology. These autonomous lessons are presented using the “StoryMaps” application and allow students to manipulate modern and historical maps of water infrastructure sites which are embedded in illustrated narratives suitable for any high school student. We held four teacher training sessions to train educators in utilizing the Hub’s resources for their own teaching. Workshops were held in March, June, and October. There have been over 2,433 unique users of the Hub this year. Our newest StoryMaps featured on the Hub are listed below and can be accessed by clicking on the following links: 

Uptown Underground


And Oysters of New York’s Past

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Instruction at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS)

Working closely with environmental science teacher Dr. Jared Fox, NYC H2O educators brought mapping and environmental lessons to students at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS). Through these lessons, students sharpened their digital literacy skills, and built experience in media research, media management, cloud-based management, and utilizing mapping software. Our instructors lead three classroom sessions each week to provide hands-on support to students. By using StoryMaps tutorials created by NYC H2O and tailored to a high school audience, 90 WHEELS seniors created their own ArcGIS StoryMaps and dove deeply into the communities, natural environments, public spaces, and resources of Washington Heights. These interactive articles help students interpret and represent data visually to communicate complex societal issues. Students also get hands-on experience in their communities through weekly community cleanups and advocacy work. 

Ongoing Digital Stories Afterschool Program

Seven students at WHEELS in grades 10-12 are working with NYC H2O and Genesis Abreu at Friends of WHEELS and community members to tell the hidden stories of 182nd Street. The Digital Stories program immerses these students in the work of the Clean Air Corridor and teaches them about media and digital communication by having them apply new skills in forms such as social media, StoryMaps, mini documentaries, photography, and posters. We currently meet with students weekly, and will showcase student work and installations on the corridor in the spring of 2022.

Maspeth High School

NYC H2O was delighted to continue our after school environmental education program with Maspeth High School (MHS) for the third consecutive year. While there were  transportation restrictions due to COVID, we brought elements of Ridgewood Reservoir to MHS to introduce students to the ecology of the Reservoir and environmental stewardship. We looked at pond samples from the Reservoir under a microscope to study invertebrates. We planted a flower bed at MHS with native plant seeds from the  pollinator gardens at Ridgewood Reservoir. We also surveyed the schoolyard’s ecology.   

In addition, students connected with local greenspaces by exploring and mapping the neighborhood  around school.  As part of this mapping exercise we introduced students to StoryMaps.

NYC H2O thanks the following City Council Members for their generous support of our Ecology and STEM education programs: Joe Borelli, Kevin Riley, Robert Holden, Darma Diaz, Antonio Reynoso, Alan Maisel, Margaret Chin, Steven Matteo, Adrienne Adams, Carlina Rivera, Mark Levine, Brad Lander, and City Council District 48. We also thank the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, the City Parks Foundation, Lily Auchincloss Foundation, and Con Edison, for their support of our programs and New York City school children.

Ridgewood Reservoir Stewardship

For the last six years, NYC H2O has led ecological restoration efforts at Ridgewood Reservoir. This fall, our hearty and dedicated crew made significant strides to cut back the invasive phragmites and open up new views of the reservoir along the West Causeway, pushing forward with remediation efforts toward bringing in more native aquatic plant species.

Through a combination of NYC H2O’s team endeavors along with organized monthly volunteer stewardship events and immersive themed walks, local residents continue to enjoy this post-industrial wetland park alongside wildlife.

Reservoir volunteers this year focused on removing invasive plants and replacing them with native flora. This involved cultivating our two pollinator gardens and planting native wildflowers such as milkweed and mountain mint. Volunteers also assisted with removal of vines such as English ivy and other invasive plants on the East Causeway and South Hill, which improved sightlines and mobility access. In turn, this progress made the park safer for visitors and helped to preserve historic structures.

Thanks to the expertise of ornithologist Heather Wolf, nature photographer Steve Nanz, herbalist Jocelyn Perez-Blanco and naturalist Gabriel Willow, community members participated in free community walks year round. These walks engaged community members in a variety of diverse subjects, from bats and fireflies to birdwatching in Spanish and medicinal plants at Ridgewood Reservoir. These walks also would not be possible without our sponsors and NYC Parks.

A unique highlight of 2021 was the debut of our very first dance performance. On September 18 and 19, choreographer Gwendolyn Knapp and her team delighted audiences with a live outdoor performance at Ridgewood Reservoir entitled “Local Living Boulevard.” The dance was attended by an audience of nearly 50 socially distanced people over the course of the two nights’ showings. The site-specific piece joined our blossoming ecological arts sector offerings along with Colleen Tighe’s much-loved sketching sessions.


After three years of path-clearing work and reinforcing the historic fences that run along the quarter-mile path, Ridgewood Reservoir’s East Causeway finally opened to the public in June. This year marks the first time that the East Causeway has been publicly accessible in over 40 years. Thanks to 50 volunteers and the NYC H2O crew, who applied their time and energy into path improvements during eight volunteer stewardship events in 2021. Visitors can now enjoy the sights of previously inaccessible greenspace, and perhaps have a chance to spot shy eastern cottontails and turtles that tend to frequent the quieter East side more often.

THANK YOU to City Council Member Darma V Diaz, Council Member Antonio Reynoso, Ridgewood Savings Bank, ATAX Ridgewood, City Parks Foundation, Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Achelis and Bodman Foundation, and the Hyde and Watson Foundation for their generous support of our work at the Reservoir. We also thank the New York City Department of Parks for working with us to improve the Reservoir through citizen involvement.

Vermont Place Sidewalk

Over the last five years, NYC H2O has advocated for improving pedestrian access to Highland Park at the intersection Vermont Place and Highland Boulevard. We are happy to announce that the NYC Department of Transportation has nearly completed construction on a new sidewalk at this intersection. And, new crosswalks and pedestrian signals will be added this spring, which will further improve safety for park-goers who are walking or biking to the Reservoir.

Flower Planting, Walking Tours, Online Lectures and Children’s Book Readings

In June, 130 households throughout Brooklyn and Queens got the chance to take some nature home with them with our special “Planting in the Plaza” community events. Kids decorated flower pots, planted their own houseplants, and learned how to care for them during interactive lessons.

Across the Verrazzano Bridge, photographer and journalist Nathan Kensinger continued his walking tour series highlighting the cultural and ecological history of southern Staten Island and exploring its unique water infrastructure. The four tours consistently sold out in the spring and again in the fall. Nathan and Amelia Zaino produced online StoryMaps for these tours, allowing everyone a chance to enjoy Nathan’s research (linked below). The dates and sites of the series were:

–   Tappen’s Creek and Kreischerville Walking Tour 5/22/2021 and 10/9/2021

–   Richmond Valley and Mill Creek Walking Tour 5/2/2021 and 9/25/2021

–   Sandy Brook and Sandy Ground Walking Tour 6/26/2021 and 11/6/2021

–   Prince’s Bay and Lemon Creek Walking Tour 6/5/2021 and 12/4/2021

While smaller groups were able to enjoy enriching in-person activities, our online talks and readings allowed larger groups to still gather safely and participate in educational dialogue.

We presented four live virtual readings of children’s books this year featuring their respective authors followed by an audience Q+A. Recorded sessions are linked for viewing. The readings consisted of:

1/13/21 Pout Pout Cleans Up the Ocean by Deborah Disen

2/26/21 Fox & Chick by Sergio Ruzzier

5/14/21 Ruby’s Birds by Mya Thompson

10/7/21 Are you a Cheeseburger? By Monica Arnaldo

Our seven online lectures were healthily attended by over 1700 separate household screens this past year! Again, recorded sessions are linked below:

3/2/2021 A Tale of Two Waterworks with Jeffrey Kroessler

3/30/2021 Subway Reefs: Sea Turtles on the 7 with Bob Martore

4/16/2021 Before Ridgewood with Eric Sanderson

5/11/2021 The Whiskey Rebellion with William Hogeland

6/6/2021 Inspiring Change: Ridgewood Reservoir A Panel Discussion

8/11/2021 Undercurrent: Exploring Pools as a Lens to the Water with Caroline Czeczek

10/19/2021 Barren Island: Brooklyn’s Forgotten History with Miriam Sicherman

​​For 2022, we expect our audience to reach 5,000 people through in-person and online events as well as from our website content and field trips.

Beach, Park & Community Garden Cleanups

We held 13 volunteer cleanups in 2021:

●  Lemon Creek Beach Cleanup in Staten Island – 5/29, 10/2 and 11/20

●  Plumb Beach Cleanup in Brooklyn – 5/15 and 9/18

●  Conference House Park Cleanup in Staten Island – 5/1

●  Oakwood Beach Cleanup in Staten Island – 10/16

●  Baisley Pond Park Beach Cleanup in Queens – 9/4

●  Our cleanup repertoire expanded to combat illegal dumping in East NY on Atlantic Ave with volunteer events both 4/3 and 12/11.

●  We also assisted with organizing two community garden cleanups at Success Community Garden on 4/17 and 11/13 and a third garden cleanup at Barbey St on 10/23.

We had over 800 volunteers–a majority of whom were students–removing over 4 tons of trash from these beautiful shorelines, parks, gardens and wetlands.

THANK YOU to all of our partners who worked with us on beach, park and public spaces cleanups:​

  • City Council Member Alan Maisel
  • City Council Member Adrienne Adams
  • DSNY
  • Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy
  • Americorps Cypress Hills LDC
  • KhalsaAid USA
  • Volunteer Referral Center
  • Elias Bernstein IS7
  • St. Joseph’s By The Sea
  • Monsignor Farrell High School – Marine Biology Club
  • St. Clare School
  • Moms for Change
  • Con Edison
  • Engines for Change
  • City Councilman Joe Borelli​ ​
  • NYC Parks
  • NPS – Gateway National Recreation Area
  • City Parks Foundation
  • Concerned Residents for Barbey St
  • United Activities Unlimited
  • New York Cares
  • IS 34
  • Staten Island Tech​ High School
  • St. Joseph’s Hill
  • Bronx High School of Science Key Club
  • South East Queens Cleanup Initiative
  • Liberty Coca Cola
  • City Council Member Steven Matteo
  • NRPA
  • Partnership for Parks​​
  • Staten Island Zoo
  • Success Community Garden
  • City Clean up Corps
  • Tottenville High
  • IS 75
  • SIA
  • Fort Hamilton High school
  • Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams
  • Staten Island Borough President James Oddo Staten Island Deputy Borough President Ed Burke

Support NYC H2O

Your donation directly supports our free outdoor educational field trips as well as our virtual NYC H2O Hub for underserved school children (enrolled in Title I and III schools) in all five boroughs. We’ve been awarded a Platinum Seal from Guidestar, denoting the highest possible level of transparency. Please consider donating here to support our students in learning about the critical ecological importance and beauty of New York City’s water through engaging hands-on science learning.

Members are a critical part of our NYC H2O team: learn how you can make a difference by becoming a member here. At NYC H2O events, members are invited to meet with our speakers for online and in person networking with other members who care about shaping the future of New York City and educating its youngest generation. Members receive NYC H2O merchandise and other benefits such as event and walking tour discounts.

Thank You for Your Support

Thank you again to all our sponsors and to all who support our work through donating, volunteering, and participating in NYC H2O programs.

Aqueduct artwork created by Stalin Espinal