Watershed Advisory Group Update
Early in 2013, Congressman Gibson formed The Watershed Advisory Group (WAG) to investigate and evaluate the issues concerning Watershed management throughout the West of Hudson Watershed area in the 19th Congressional District. The goal of the WAG was to inform the Congressman regarding the various Watershed-related issues faced by constituents across the district, and the many facets of the relationships between the NYC DEP, NY State agencies, Federal agencies, County and Local municipalities, and those constituents. This initiative was similar to previous Advisory Groups the Congressman had created, including Veterans, Agriculture, and Energy Advisory Groups, all of which played important roles for those policy areas.
A diverse group of competent volunteers was organized representing residents from across the District. This group spent many hours meeting with representatives of the affected Towns and Counties. Research was done with the assistance of the Coalition of Watershed Towns (CWT), Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC), several County Soil & Water agencies, as well as the DEC, DEP, FEMA, NRCS, and EPA. Spearheaded by Co-Chairman Bob Illjes, significant input was received from key Watershed leaders such as Al Rosa, Tim Cox, Jeff Baker, Carl Stuendel, Dean Frazier, Assemblyman Pete Lopez, Senators John Bonacic and Jim Seward, and many others, just to name a few.
Several areas of concern were highlighted, including reservoir management, the Filtration Avoidance Determination renewal process, stream repair and mitigation efforts, the Consent Decree process for the Lower Esopus, DEP land acquisition practices, agricultural land issues, and several other areas. What was clear is that most of these issues varied significantly in importance by geographic location, which was expected, so that moving forward it would be necessary to focus on local issues as part of the broader effort. It was also widely recognized that we seem to have entered a period of changing weather patterns that is producing stronger and more frequent storms that are impacting the Watershed significantly.
One of the issues which overlap many of the Watershed’s regions is reservoir management. The key issue we found is that many constituents and local leaders were very concerned regarding the management practices of all the DEP reservoirs at levels which appear to create a constant threat to the residents who live below the dams, while also having an inconsistent policy of managing water releases from the reservoirs. While the DEP to its credit has through conservation efforts reduced its water usage significantly, and improvements have been made or are underway across the Watershed and its delivery system to NY City, the protocol of maintaining these reservoir levels at capacity has essentially not changed for over a generation.
Another critical area needing help is the Lower Esopus Creek region. The effects on the Lower Esopus being used as a “waste” channel from the Ashokan Reservoir with little regard for the impacts of such actions are unacceptable. These actions have significantly affected the health, safety, and financial well being of constituents of the five Towns below the Ashokan Reservoir. We look forward to seeing comprehensive and effective improvements implemented through the Consent Decree review process currently underway.
A third area of focus is the Upper Delaware River area. There are important environmental, economic, and flood mitigation concerns that need to be addressed through several methods, including the Delaware River Basin Decree Party members, the DRBC, and numerous advocacy groups like the UDC and FUDR. Congressman Gibson’s office is actively involved in this process through the DRBC Congressional Task Force, of which he is a Co-Chair, and gaining input on a constant basis from all stakeholders involved in this region.
A fourth area of focus is the Schoharie Creek Watershed. There are several important projects moving forward there, including the Schoharie Stream Mitigation Project which is currently the single largest NRCS EWP flood mitigation project underway in the nation, and the Gilboa Dam improvement project. Other issues involve stream flows and stream remediation efforts in both Greene and Schoharie counties.
A fifth area of focus is the Mountaintop region in Greene County. This area was very hard hit by Hurricane Irene, and many constituents and towns continue to struggle to fully recover from the damage. The issues most important in this region are flood mitigation and stream infrastructure improvements, along with continued support and emphasis of the flood recovery.
To that end, the Congressman has appointed Liaisons to each of these areas of concern. These Liaisons will be responsible for reaching out and listening to stakeholders in their respective areas, advising the Congressman on relevant issues, and help advocate the Congressman’s positions on how best to solve and work through the issues to meet the challenges each area faces within the Watershed.
Here is the list of Liaisons:
· Diane Tharp will be the Reservoir Management liaison.
· Bob Illjes will be the Esopus/Ashokan Liaison.
· Dean Frazier will be the Delaware River Basin Liaison.
· Tony Van Glad will be the Schoharie Creek Watershed region Liaison.
· Bridget Pelham will be the Mountaintop Liaison.
As needed, additional Liaisons will be appointed moving forward.
All of these Liaisons are currently very active in various arenas of the Watershed mosaic, and the Congressman is grateful for their service and willingness to continue to help advise on all of the many challenges moving forward. The Congressional Staff in both the District and Washington DC Offices will also continue to be very engaged in all matters involving the Watershed, and will continue to work not only with the Liaisons but all stakeholders across the District.
In summary, the Watershed Advisory Group has performed well in its primary role of informing the Congressman of what the issues are and how they have developed over the decades. The focus moving forward is how the Congressman and his office can be helpful in trying to resolve the issues by working with all the stakeholders involved. By necessity, this will often involve compromise by these stakeholders so that the best possible outcomes can be achieved for the largest number of constituents who are impacted by Watershed issues. We look forward to working with all involved on these important matters.
For more information, please contact District Director Steve Bulger via e-mail at:
The Congressman would like to thank the following individuals for their help and input on the Watershed with either the WAG and/or the Congressman’s Office:
Bob Illjes, Co-Chairman
Assemblymen Pete Lopez & Cliff Crouch
Senators John Bonacic & Jim Seward
Al Rosa, Tim Cox, Nate Hendricks – Catskill Watershed Corporation
Carl Stuendel & Jeff Baker – Coalition of Watershed Towns
Andrew Feeney, Chris Holmes, Susan Mutch, Rick Lord – NY State Emergency Management
Pam Young – NYS Dept. of Health