By Mark Hallum
Conservationists and elected officials scored a victory announced Monday that the Ridgewood Reservoir would get the protected status many along the Brooklyn-Queens border believe it deserves.
NYC Parks and the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) filed the 50-acre wetland under Class I protected status under the Freshwater Protection Act of 1975 and city, state and federal representatives discussed the significance of the wildlife haven.
The nonprofit agency NYC H2O has worked to protect the reservoir for years by writing legislation at the state and federal levels and using the site teach students about environmental science.
“The Ridgewood Reservoir is a majestic place,” NYC H2O’s Executive Director Matt Malina said. “Its Class I wetland designation protects it as an ecological treasure and allows the public to discover this treasure today and for generations to come. In the course of bringing a new generation of New Yorkers to visit and experience the site, we realized that we had become stakeholders in advocating for its preservation and protection. The support of DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, elected officials, community leaders and organizations has been critical to preventing the Reservoir’s demolition, designating it as a historic site, protecting its wetlands and in advocating for its future.”
Late-flowering boneset, fringed boneset, globe-fruited ludwigia, short-eared owl and pied-billed grebe are all threatened or endangered plant and animal species that call the reservoir home which are some of the criteria for Class I designation.
“The recent designation of the Ridgewood Reservoir as a Class I wetland is wonderful news and a great victory for the community and area activists along with myself and the other elected officials,” Assemblyman Mike Miller said. “We have advocated and supported this designation because the Ridgewood Reservoir is a cultural and ecological treasure. The Reservoir contains over 100 species of birds and wildlife. This designation for the reservoir will forever protect it from development and preserve it for generations to come.”
The movement to protect the reservoir has been gaining momentum over time.
In February 2018, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places with the help of NYC H2O for the role the reservoir played in supplying water to the Brooklyn in the late 19th century.
It was decommissioned after 100 years of use as it stood as one of the few places where clean drinking water could be found in the surrounding area, but was taken over by the city Parks Department in 2004.
“NYC Parks has worked to study and maintain the Ridgewood Reservoir as a recreational amenity and a habitat for rare flora and fauna. NYC Parks and DEC ecologists and natural resource managers worked hand-in-hand, conducting the vegetation and hydrologic delineation to produce new wetland maps using standard scientific methods, for the classification,” Marit Larson, NYC Parks Chief of Natural Resources, said. “This designation affirms the site’s importance and provides the maximum ecological protection for this exceptional urban wetland community. At over 50 acres, the Ridgewood Reservoir is one of the most unique natural and cultural resource in NYC Parks’ portfolio.”
The vast majority of the city’s clean water supply comes from reservoirs upstate.
“Many people have worked long and hard to preserve the Ridgewood Reservoir and ensure it is protected for years to come,” City Councilman Robert Holden said. “I believe that earning another designation for this site is a testament to their commitment to our local environment.”
Ridgewood Reservoir sits on the western edge of Highland Park on the Brooklyn/Queens border, making it a popular destination for bird-watchers and other forms of recreation.
“The Ridgewood Reservoir is a local ecological gem and this new designation will ensure it is preserved for future generations. Not only will this mean recreational opportunities for New Yorkers to enjoy the outdoors, but also hundreds of plant and animal species will be protected,” Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez said.
The Ridgewood Reservoir has seen tougher times, noted NYC H2O, and in 1989 was almost completely drained after being disconnected from the city’s water system.
The freshwater wetlands, left to their own devices, made a dramatic comeback, replenishing its water source and once again being a home for plants and birdlife who make it a stopover on the Atlantic Flyway.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall