Memorandum of Agreement

Relationships between those who live and work in the Catskill Watershed Region and those who live and work in New York City have not always been easily sustained. For too many years, the burden of protecting the natural resources of the region fell mostly on those within the area who could least afford it. Restrictions on development, huge tracts of publicly owned land, and regulations on use of rivers, streams and reservoirs kept tax bases and land values low.

When, in 1989, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandated that all surface drinking water supplies be filtered, New York City officials faced a cost of $8 billion to build filtration plants. Their only alternative was to prove to the EPA that their water supply was so well protected that filtration was not necessary. For them, that meant putting new restrictions on those who live and work in the watershed region. But communities and their elected officials united in fighting new restrictions that would further curtail economic development without compensating the region in some way for its economic losses.

After nearly a decade of wrangling, the Coalition of Watershed Towns and New York City signed the historic, New York City Watershed Memorandum of Agreement. The three-volume, 1,500 page document has become what local writer Diane Galusha called a “ground-breaking example of mutually beneficial cooperation between people and agencies sharing a history of conflict and animosity.” In the agreement, the city agreed it would not seek to condemn private property in its land acquisition program. It also agreed to build wastewater treatment plants and to financially compensate the Catskill Mountain communities for their economic losses.

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