Watershed Land Acquisition Program
The Land Acquisition Program (LAP) is a key component of New York City’s comprehensive efforts to protect and enhance the quality of its water supply, ensuring clean and safe water for future generations as well as current consumers. Land acquisition and proper stewardship can protect natural resources that filter pollutants before they reach reservoirs. Acquisition of sensitive areas near watercourses, whether through outright purchase or through conservation easements, can prevent the introduction of new sources of pollution. The Program is further described in the 1997 Watershed Memorandum Agreement (MOA) and the 1997 Filtration Avoidance Determination issued by US Environmental Protection Administration.
The City has committed $541 million to acquire vacant land or conservation easements in the watershed that contain streams, wetlands, floodplains and other features that are critical to maintaining high water quality. The entire watershed has been divided into a number of Priority Areas, based on proximity to reservoirs, reservoir intakes, and the City’s distribution system. The Priority Areas in the combined Catskill/Delaware system—which includes land both east and west of the Hudson River—are 1A (highest priority), 1B, 2, 3 and 4 (see Map). In the Croton watershed, there are three Priority Areas: A (the highest), B and C.
How the Program Works
Under the 1997 Filtration Avoidance Determination, the City is required to solicit the owners of at least 355,000 acres of land in the Catskill/Delaware watershed. Fee simple or conservation easements are acquired by the City. A supplementary program developed for farmers has been established in partnership with the Watershed Agricultural Council (WAC), through which farm easements are acquired by WAC. Both types of easements allow landowners retain ownership and certain productive and recreational uses of the land. As of February 2010, over 1,200 landowners had agreed to sell more than 104,000 acres of land, either in fee or easement, to the City or WAC throughout the Catskill/Delaware system.
Land, conservation easements and farm easements are acquired on a willing seller/willing buyer basis; participation is completely voluntary. Owners of properties with significant water quality features are asked if they are interested in selling lands or easements, but no one is forced to sell. West of Hudson, the City acquires only vacant lands without habitable dwellings. All purchase offers are based on fair market value as determined by appraisals conducted by independent, certified appraisal companies under contract with the City and as required by the MOA.
New York City pays property taxes on all land and conservation easements it owns or acquires. The amount of property taxes the City will pay on easements it acquires is proportional to the value of the easement relative to the overall property.