Press Release

Contact: Martie Gailes

Water Discovery Center of the Catskills Dedicates 43-Acre Site

New signage now marks the future home of a unique exhibit venture for the watershed

ARKVILLE, NY -- No one needed to be reminded of the critical importance of hydration or the life-sustaining necessity of potable water as they gratefully gulped some fine Catskills vintage Saturday afternoon. Water fans braved the swelter to learn about a visionary new exhibit and educational center that could flood the Catskills-Delaware Watershed with more than $11 million a year while teaching an entire generation of children from all over the Northeast about the earth's most precious and most fragile commodity: water.

State Senator John Bonacic was the first to congratulate the trustees and creative team of the Water Discovery Center of the Catskills (WDC) on the dedication of their 43-acre site on county Route 38 in Arkville. "What a momentous educational facility this will be, these supporters have a vision and we'll be back again and again to lend our support."

Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC) Executive Director Alan Rosa was on hand to present a very large check to the WDC: a $1 million grant of "irrigation" money to grow the endeavor. "The CWC Board believes in this project: it meets all three of our mission objectives: to educate about water, to bring economic vitality to the watershed and to improve water quality." Gary Gailes, president of the WDC Board, explained that, with these funds, the trustees could now seek the ideal executive director to raise the $25 million needed to make this unique educational and exhibit center a reality. Funds will also enable the creative team to continue developing its already ambitious exhibit and architectural designs.

"It's gotta be fun:" a garden, a restaurant, exhibitions ...
Architect Joe Hurwitz and exhibit designer Leonard Levitan took their two-dimensional renderings of the WDC and brought them to life for site visitors. The exhibit center would have 20,000 square feet for special exhibits and three times as much space overall: with a restaurant, cafeteria, event and conference spaces and classrooms in addition to interactive exhibits, exhibition gallery, shop and a huge rooftop garden, the Discovery Center is envisioned as far more than just a one-time museum visit.

"It's gotta be fun, or as we say in the business, edutainment," said Levitan. He emphasized that, just as the solutions and issues in the global water crisis are constantly developing, so would the infusion of creativity and changing exhibits of the Discovery Center.

A dramatic entry with a waterfall on a pyramidal roof will lead into an enormous exhibit space constructed of an open truss system to maximize flexibility and open space. "We have to tell a story — first setting the scene by explaining all the aspects of what water is, then moving on to the story's conflict, the problem of 'water under attack' around the world and from there to resolutions," Levitan explained.

Local connections
That's where the incredible story of the Catskills-Delaware Watershed system comes in, along with new technologies created to confront the water crisis. In addition to a model of the entire watershed system, the exhibit will feature a full-size cross section of the enormous aqueduct that ferries billions of water to downstate and New York City every day.

Hurwitz, an architect with strong environmental credentials, has planned the entire space inside and out, to work with the natural lay of the land, using the land's existing grade to ensconce some of the structure into the ground and create dramatic levels that are still fully handicapped accessible. "You can take in the entire exhibit space in a wheelchair," said Hurwitz.

For Hurwitz, "It's a privilege to be able to design an exhibit and work with the exhibit planner from the beginning" rather than creating a museum space where exhibits will just have to fit in after the fact. The WDC hopes to achieve the highest level of "green" LEEDs certification possible, a distinction that would probably make it unique among the world's museums. Energy efficiencies will include using the earth as insulation, photovoltaics, geothermal heating and cooling systems, and of course, recycling the water used in exhibits and gardens themselves including that dramatic waterfall that first greets the visitors.

The 43-acre site also includes protected wetlands that can be used for environmental nature trails and ecology experiments, a tourist train depot stop, and planners hope in the future there will be an amphitheater.

Considerable thought has gone into how the center would generate revenue sources in addition to ticket sales. The Center's Launch Pad will serve as a visitors' mecca, where any Catskills tourism or visitor-related venture can display materials and advertise their services. With its gardens and its spacious, gloriously lit restaurant, the center is being planned as the ideal spot for weddings and other high-end events. The creative team expects to have more detailed renderings and scale models in a few months.

Visit often to watch as development and exhibit plans unfold and learn how you can be involved in the realization of this one-of-a-kind exhibit experience in the bucolic Catskills "watershed" destination. The WDC leadership group includes Board Chairman Keith Porter, Ph.D, who is also director of the NYS Water Resources Institute, President Gailes, Vice President Carol O'Beirne, Treasurer Lewis Kolar, and Secretary Michael Porter. WDC trustees include Middletown Supervisor Len Utter, Margaretville Mayor Bill Stanton, Alan Rosa, John Reidl, Eric Wedemeyer, Sally Fairbairn, Glenn Miller, Lynn Gitter, Robert Kalb, Robert Levin, and Carol Urban. WDC Administrative Manager Martie Gailes is coordinating the Executive Search Committee and Dennis Metnick serves as WDC's counsel.

There is no substitute for water: The WDC mission and message must be graphically global
Among the guests on hand to endorse the Water Discovery Center, perhaps none brought its global mission more sharply into focus than Paul Sherlock of UNICEF. As the man at the United Nations who is responsible for coordinating the international response to water emergencies worldwide, Sherlock is used to being in places that are scorching, literally.

Sherlock's perspective helped bring home the enormous challenges we already face with the planet's water supply. Ninety-seven percent of the world's water is unusable, two percent is frozen and a mere one percent is potentially potable, and Paul Sherlock has seen firsthand what happens when the water disappears from human settlements.

His worst case scenario was as recent as 1994, when 1 million refugees converged in an area where the nearest water source was 28 kilometers away. There, in the Congo, he and his fellow engineers watched and worked frantically as 200,000 people perished right in their midst in two weeks from lack of water. "You have to focus your mind on the work in what becomes a very emotional situation. When you bring the water back in a situation like that, it's as if the world has come to life again, the whole environment changes and the kids are running and playing again."

In a world where 1.5 billion people are already without safe drinking water and billions more without adequate sanitation, 80 percent of the world's disease is caused by water-supply problems.

These issues may seem to dwarf our watershed dilemmas, but in fact, our own watershed serves as a model for how large-scale water management can work and the tremendous sacrifices it entails. WDC trustees realized long ago (and thorough feasibility studies confirmed) that an education center dedicated to water needed to encompass and dramatically illustrate far more than regional watershed issues. It needed to tell the whole story of the planet's fresh water — from the watershed to the world.

"I have to talk about the importance of water everyday, but this Water Discovery Center will talk to thousands of children every year — this is fantastic and I feel privileged to come along today," said Sherlock, "I'll go anywhere I can go and talk about the importance of this endeavor to get the support and cooperation of my colleagues at the UN," he pledged.

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