Pepacton Paddle

September 22, 2012
Arena Launch Site

Come paddle on the Pepacton Reservoir with Catskill native and adventure guide Craig Apolito.

The Pepacton Reservoir is the largest volume reservoir in NYC’s Catskill / Delaware watershed, holding 140.2 billion gallons of water at full capacity. Put in service in 1955, it supplies NYC with more than 25% of its daily water intake.

Just this summer the DEP opened the reservoir for the first time to recreational use by permit only for canoes and kayaks. NYC H2O is excited to share the experience of paddling on the beautiful and pristine Pepacton Reservoir. We endorse the DEP’s forward thinking use of the reservoir and will join in promoting vigilance and good stewardship of the reservoir by paddlers.

The Pepaction Reservoir covers 13,384 acres or 21 square miles. The towns of Pepacton, Shavertown, Union Grove and Arena were inundated to create it. In all 974 people were moved. The elevation of the reservoir is 1,257 feet above sea level. (NYC is at sea level.) The word ‘pepacton’ is a Native American word which means ‘marriage of the waters.’

It was created by building the Downsville Dam which is 204 feet high and 2,450 feet long. It is the largest earthen dam in the east. Once completed in 1954 it took 19 months to fill up all 140 billion gallons of it.

In 1920 Bureau of Water Supply (BWS) Chief J. Waldo Smith predicted that demand for water in NYC would exceed supply by 1932. The city built Tunnel #2 (1927 – 1936) to supply water to Brooklyn and Queens from the Hillview Reservoir. Staten Island got a second 3 foot diameter pipe across the narrows.

After researching new land areas the streams and tributaries of the Delaware River in the western Catskills were deemed to be the best choice for the new supply. FOUR reservoirs were planned; the Rondout, Neversink, Pepacton and Canonsville.

The Delaware Aqueduct which starts at the Rondout Reservoir is 83.8 miles long and is the longest tunnel in the world. Its terminus is the Hillview Reservoir in Yonkers. From there Tunnel #1 and #2 distribute water to the city.

The Great Depression held up construction even though plans for the Delaware Aqueduct were complete in 1932. In 1936 work on the aqueduct and Rondout Reservoir began and employed 6,000 men. There was even a display about it at the Delaware Aqueduct at the 1939 Worlds Fair.

World War II held up construction from 1941 – 1946 because the war effort got priority for resources. Construction on the Pepacton Reservoir began in 1947 and was completed in 1954.

The Delaware River flows 400 miles through 4 states NY, NJ, PA and DE. The Delaware River Treaty Commission was created in 1923 by NY, NJ and PA to come up with an equitable plan to develop reservoirs for NYC, Philly and SEVERAL towns in northern NJ. But this was not resolved before battling between the states for who should get water and how much. The case went all the way up to the US Supreme Court when in 1931 the court ruled in favor of NYC. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in the court’s decision;

A river is more than an amenity, it is a treasure. It offers a necessity of life that must be rationed among those who have power over it. New York has the physical power to cut off all the water within its jurisdiction. But clearly the exercise of such a power to the destruction of the interest of lower states could not be tolerated. And on the other hand, equally little could New Jersey be permitted to require New York to give up its power altogether in order that the river might come down to it undiminished. Both sides have real and substantial interest in the River that must be reconciled as best they may be. The different traditions and practices in different parts of the country may lead to varying results but the effort always is to secure and equitable apportionment without quibbling over formulas.

The Delaware River Treaty Commission was a predecessor to the Delaware River Basin Commission that was established in 1961 when JFK signed it into law. The DRBC was established to again broker a water agreement between the 4 states as NYC wanted to draw more water from the river and build the Canonsville Reservoir. In 2010 the DRBC temporarily banned fracking on its lands.

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