Upper Delaware River Watershed: Beauty, Recreation and Sustenance for New York

January 6, 2023

by Peter Aronson

This may not be common knowledge to people living in New York City and the surrounding counties, but the Upper Delaware River Watershed is crucial to the millions residing and working in this area. The watershed region, located in the Catskills and the contiguous southern part of the state, supplies more than 50 percent of the daily water supply for those areas. 

In 2022, for the first time, the watershed, which encompasses 2,390 square miles in New York State (primarily Delaware and Sullivan Counties), was awarded $300,000 in funding through the state’s Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), for conservation and watershed protection.

NYLCV wants the 2022 EPF funding to become permanent as an annual line item in the state’s budget. 

The watershed area, historically, had pollution problems. Recently, however, the water is cleaner, but there are still threats, including: accelerated erosion, sedimentation of local streams, development pressures, climate change, invasive species and flooding. 

Protecting the region and our drinking water is an absolute necessity. The NYLCV has joined forces with the Friends of the Upper Delaware River and the Orange County Land Trust, calling on New Yorkers to sign a petition at Greenactions.org urging Gov. Hochul to maintain this funding for the EPF.

The Upper Delaware River Watershed sits at the northern portion of the Delaware River, as it flows south 330 miles from New York to the Pennsylvania-New Jersey border, and into Delaware before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. The river is home to more than 45 fish species and supports bird and mammal species, including the bobcat, coyote, and our national bird, the bald eagle. Spanning 200 miles along the border of NJ and PA is the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, home to valuable hemlock tree ravines as well as nearly 200 lakes and ponds. The river provides drinking water for 17 million people in five states. American Rivers named it River of the Year in 2020

The Delaware River and its tributary rivers and streams travel 4,062 miles in New York State. They feed into 188 different freshwater lakes, ponds and reservoirs, covering 24,932 acres.  

For technical data about the watershed, visit the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation website.  

The river and its watershed provide tremendous economic, recreational, and ecological value to New York state. Recreational activities attract more than 5.5 million visitors to the region every year, and for good reason. The Delaware River features 73 miles of scenic and recreational parks in New York, as well as one of the finest cold water wild trout fisheries in the country. The value of natural goods and services provided by the Delaware River’s ecosystems in New York State is $3.5 billion, illustrating how crucial the area is to the State’s economy. 

The fact that the Delaware River flows south from New York into our three neighboring southern states makes it even more important that New York protect its portion of the river.

A little over 50 years ago, the river was heavily polluted and filled with sewage, uninhabitable for marine life and negatively impacted local communities. Fast forward to today, the Delaware River is much healthier due to monetary support and recognition at the federal level, and because of the broad coordination of restoration efforts by various state agencies, academic institutions, and advocacy groups. The NYLCV is part of this group to make sure a focus remains on the region, so the water and the entire region is protected for generations to come. 

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