The water resources of the Highlands region are an incredible resource of interconnected rivers, streams, wetlands, ponds and lakes. The region provides water for over 15 million people in NY and NJ alone. Wetlands and swamps like the Wallkill National Wildlife Refuge and NY’s Great Swamp provide vital ecosystem services like storing water from flood events, filter drinking water of its pollutants, and serving as a haven for wildlife particularly birds, amphibians and reptiles. However, decades of development and pollution have gravely impaired the water resources of the region. Thankfully, the region has several greatly influential conservation organizations, and sprouted countless other local watershed groups. With the great expansion of land development in the region since the end of WWII, impervious cover has grown in a cancerous fashion across the landscape. Impervious cover prevents the natural filtration of soils, and increases the frequency of flooding event. Pollution becomes more concentrated and the impact of simple common rainstorms is exacerbated. The US Forest Service ranked lands across the Highlands for preservation based on their impact on water quality. Included in this ranking was an assessment of factors such as aquifer recharge areas, pollution susceptibility, groundwater and surface water protection zones, steep slopes, 100-yr floodplains, wetlands, Hydric soils, exceptional value streams, forested watersheds, impervious areas and impaired stream.
Facts and Figures
How much is there in the Highlands?
- The major watersheds of the Highlands include the Housatonic, Hudson, Delaware, Schuylkill, Susquehanna, Raritan, and Passaic.
- About 50 inches of precipitation fall annually on the NY-NJ Highlands
- 4.5 million people get water directly from the NY-NJ highlands, predominately from crystalline aquifers
- NY-NJ residents use 145 mgd total (30 mgd domestic)
- In the NY-NJ region, the total reservoir storage is 324 billion gallons
- Importantly, 88% of surface water goes out of the NY-NJ Highlands to other consumers, and 9% of the water budget is consumed
- 96 mgd groundwater used for non-domestic in PA, while 26 mgd in domestic from public services or about 60 gallons per day for each person
- 7 impoundments in the PA Highlands
- Much of the stream baseflow comes from sewage treatment systems
- 1860 trout stream miles in PA
- 30% of CT Highlands water is public surface water, while 70% comes from private wells
- There are several nationally designated Wild and Scenic rivers, including the Farmington, Housatonic, Hudson, Delaware, and Musconetcong
- Thousands of stream miles are ranked highly by the respective state agencies
- Land conversion and development impacts water supplies by eroding quality, and increasing sediment runoff.
- Poor agricultural practices can increase sediment runoff as well as nutrient loading.
- Flooding can be tremendous economic and environmental impact, leading to degraded streams and reduced aquatic habitat.
- Old dams and impoundments that have outlived their useful life prevent anadromous fish from migrating upstream
Strategies for protection
- Riparian buffer ordinances of 150 feet or greater
- More stringent wetlands protections and enforcement of existing protection
- Land protection & acquisition along stream corridors
- Increasing protection of streams at the state and federal level through special designation (High quality, C1, Wild and Scenic)
- Restoration of riparian buffers on public and private lands