Up here in the Catskills, in the heart of New York City’s vast rural watershed, it’s impossible to forget that one lives in the middle of the city’s water supply. The city’s huge reservoirs dominate the landscape. Watershed affairs dominate local politics. New York City’s watershed police patrol along sleepy back roads a hundred miles from Manhattan.
For most downstate New Yorkers, though, water is just a thing that comes out of the tap. This week, the New York Times introduced its readers to their astonishing water system in “Living City,” a video series that explores some of the wonders of urban engineering that make life in our nation’s largest city possible.
The video (embedded above) features New York historian Gerard Koeppel, New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) deputy commissioner Paul Rush along with a few other DEP staffers, and local sport shop owner Lloyd Hornbeck.
For Hornbeck, like many who live in the watershed, the beauty of the city’s reservoirs is bittersweet. A lifelong local resident, Hornbeck remembers the town of Cannonsville, seized and destroyed to build the Cannonsville Reservoir, which was put into service in 1964.
“God, I’d like the old days back, but let’s face it — we’ve got what we’ve got, and we’ve got to enjoy what it is now,” Hornbeck tells the camera from his seat in a rowboat on the Cannonsville. “I mean, you look at it, you’d never know there was a town under here.”
In the video, Koeppel, the author of “Water For Gotham: A History,” reminds New Yorkers not to take what they have for granted:
“I think it’s important for all New Yorkers to be aware of their water system, to not take for granted the water that comes out of your tap seemingly so effortlessly,” Koeppel says. “Many generations of work have gone into creating this incredible water supply, which is the gold standard for urban water supplies, copied by other cities around the world.”