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Reservoir Releases

"It is hereby declared to be the public policy of the State of New York that the waters of the state be conserved and developed for all public beneficial uses" (Environmental Conservation Law § 15-0105).

What are Reservoirs?

Photograph of the Cross River Spillway in Westchester County
Cross River Spillway, Westchester County

Reservoirs are structures used to help "conserve and develop" water resources. In a reservoir, water from a stream or river is stored behind a dam for various beneficial uses, like drinking water supply, electrical generation, recreation, irrigation or to protect and enhance wildlife habitat. When full, water flows through and safely out of a reservoir through a specially designed spillway. In New York, many reservoirs are relatively small structures used primarily for agricultural purposes, whereas, larger reservoirs are used primarily for water supply. Many are also popular as recreational sites for fishing and water sports.

New York Reservoir Release Regulations

New York Reservoir Release Regulations are found in Title 6 of New York Code, Rules and Regulations Parts 670 through 672. These regulations cover reservoirs having a capacity of more than one billion gallons in the counties of Delaware, Greene, Putnam, Schoharie, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester. While reservoirs are useful for a variety of purposes, they also alter natural stream flow which can impact wildlife habitat or public beneficial uses. To help offset these impacts, releases of water from reservoirs may be made through specially designed outlet mechanisms. A goal of New York reservoir release regulations is to enhance recreational uses, such as trout fishing and canoeing, of waters affected by reservoir releases while ensuring and without impairing an adequate supply of water for power production or for any municipality which uses water from such reservoirs for drinking and other purposes.

Are Reservoirs the Same as Flood Control Dams?

While they both involve dams, reservoirs are not flood control dams. Whereas flood control dams are specially designed to remain largely empty to capture major runoff events, reservoirs are designed to remain largely full, reserving water for later uses. However, reservoirs can and do provide some flood protection benefits, because even when full, they reduce downstream peak flow rates during large runoff events.

New York State has over 100 flood control projects. More can be learned about the DEC dam safety and flood protection programs from the Bureau of Flood Protection and Dam Safety.

More about Reservoir Releases

New York State, in consultation with New York City, participates with Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the Federal government in the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), see Links Leaving DEC's Website in right hand margin. The members of the DRBC are the four state governors and a presidential appointed federal government representative. The DRBC strives to conserve and protect water resources and improve water use in the Basin for the benefit of the Basin as a whole. Releases from the New York City Delaware Basin Reservoirs (Cannonsville, Neversink and Pepacton) are a major component of the Upper Delaware River system.

Picture of Ashokan reservoir
Ashokan Reservoir - click image for larger version

More about Reservoir Releases:

  • New York's Role in the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) - Representing New York in a Federal-Interstate Commission.
  • New York City Water Supply System - New York City's water supply system includes the following reservoirs: Cannonsville, Pepacton, Schoharie, Ashokan, Rondout, and a number of reservoirs in the Croton Reservoir System. There are also 69 wells located in Queens, N.Y.
  • Ashokan Reservoir - New document for Interim Protocol to provide regular water releases from Ashokan Reservoir supporting habitat and discharge mitigation releases. NYSDEC is requesting comments.
  • Water Releases for Esopus Creek - Historically, the Department has received requests from a consortium of recreational groups that hold recreational water events. These groups coordinate scheduling with other planned boating events throughout the region. Requests for diversions for special recreational events must be received in writing by April 15th of each year.
  • Frequently Asked Questions concerning Delaware Basin Reservoir Releases - Frequently asked questions regarding reservoir releases