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Democrat Photo by Dan Hust

NYC DEPARTMENT OF Environmental Protection hydrologist Jim Porter shows an anemometer (a device which measures wind speed) which was attacked by a porcupine – just one of many anecdotes he shared during a lecture in Grahamsville Friday.

NYC Watershed Is Focus
Of New Lecture Series

By Dan Hust
GRAHAMSVILLE —January 30, 2001 - In the course of less than two hours Friday, the 30 or so listeners at a Grahamsville church’s community hall had learned about items ranging from the mundane to the bizarre, from the pH balance in local reservoirs to the results of a porcupine attack on a portable weather monitoring station.
And that’s just the beginning, said Joanne Gallagher.
“This is the first lecture in a series of ten – six for adults and four for local schoolchildren,” she explained while preparing refreshments for attendees.
“We’ve received a grant from the Catskill Watershed Corporation for $8,000, which includes the lectures, cataloguing artifacts and creating and designing a living display,” continued Gallagher, who is the director of the Daniel Pierce Library in Grahamsville.
To be held over the course of 18 months, the library-sponsored lecture series is focused tightly on the New York City Water Supply, which includes the bulk of the Town of Neversink. Neversink, in fact, is the only township in the entire four-county watershed which has two city reservoirs – Neversink in the west and Rondout in the east.
And there’s a demand for such knowledge, said Gallagher.
“In terms of reference questions, this is the most-asked question,” she explained. “I think it’s very important that people know their local history.”
But NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) hydrologist Jim Porter’s presentation Friday was as much about the current state of affairs as the past.
A nine-year veteran of the DEP, Porter possesses a doctorate in environmental science and is in charge of all hydrology-related activities in the city’s west-of-Hudson water supply, which includes the Catskill (Schoharie and Ashokan reservoirs) and Delaware (Cannonsville, Pepacton, Neversink and Rondout) systems.
Although he lives in Neversink and works out of an office in Grahamsville, Porter likes the fact that his work keeps him away from his desk.
“It gets me outdoors,” he said with a smile. “I’m blessed to be here. It’s a field I enjoy, as I can take the research and apply it . . . [so that] it hopefully has an impact on someone’s life.”
Toward that end, Porter detailed just how involved the city is in ensuring a safe supply of drinking water to its over nine million inhabitants (not counting the communities along the way which use that water).
“The screening program is the first line of defense,” he explained. “It’s an opportunity to find a small problem before it becomes a big problem.”
That program includes:
• Fifty water sampling sites throughout the watershed, which are checked every two weeks for pH balance, odor, color, temperature, bacteria, etc.
• Five storm event monitoring sites (one of them in Neversink) to track snow, rain and windstorms’ effects on the water.
• Thirty-six US Geological Survey stream gauges designed to identify water levels and speeds.
• Seventeen pathogen monitoring sites for any dangerous chemicals in the water.
• Tunnel and aqueduct monitors for the extensive water supply conduit built through miles and miles of rock as early as 1915 and as late as 1965.
• Weather monitoring stations for tracking meteorological impacts on the supply system (one of which was literally ripped apart by a curious and hungry porcupine, said Porter).
• Wastewater treatment plant monitoring, since many a plant is located along this precious drinking water supply.
• Numerous other programs involving plants, wetlands, acid rain and fisheries (Porter mentioned that one DEP researcher in nearby Frost Valley utilizes a rod which electrifies stream water, thus harmlessly shocking and stunning fish so he can check on their health).
“We have a bird harassment program, too,” he said to chuckles from the audience. “They poop all over the place, and it’s bad when they sit over the intake valves.”
The DEP’s high-tech solution?
“We scare them with bangers, screamers and whistlers,” Porter said.
On a more serious note, he addressed the ongoing concerns regarding mercury in the water, especially in the Neversink Reservoir.
“As far as we know, it’s due to atmospheric deposition [i.e., rain, snow, etc.],” he explained. “But as strange as it sounds . . . the water is safe to drink. The mercury is in extremely low quantities.
“Unfortunately, it’s not temporary,” he continued. “It’s a tough one to fix.”
After a series of questions and answers, attendees got a chance to look up close at some of the equipment (like an autosampler to automatically take water samples) which Porter and his colleagues use when trudging through the woods to a particular stream or reservoir.
The next lecture is one for adults (although children are welcomed) and will feature Grahamsville resident and former state assemblyman Dick Coombe speaking about farm and forestry management within the watershed. It will be held on March 23 at a location yet to be determined, followed by a to-be-announced lecture in May.
For more information, call the library at 985-7233. Announcements of the specifics on future lectures will be posted prior to the events in the Democrat.

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