Land acquisition is a key component of the City’s comprehensive efforts to protect the quality of its water supply. Permanent protection of hydrologically-sensitive lands—either through acquisition of fee simple or conservation easements—serves a number of important water quality functions: maintaining natural features that filter pollutants before they reach reservoirs; precluding land uses that would otherwise introduce new pollutants into the water supply; and shifting development toward areas of less sensitivity.
Pursuant to the 1997 Watershed Agreement and New York City’s subsequent filtration waivers, DEP was mandated to solicit watershed properties that contain streams, wetlands, floodplains, and other sensitive natural areas that are important for water quality protection. The entire watershed has been divided into a number of Priority Areas based on proximity to terminal reservoirs, water supply intakes, and the City’s distribution system. The Priority Areas in the Catskill/Delaware Watershed are 1A (highest), 1B, 2, 3 and 4 (lowest). The Croton Watershed contains three Priority Areas: A (highest), B, and C (lowest).
DEP’s Land Acquisition Program operates on a willing seller/willing buyer basis which means that landowner participation is completely voluntary. Owners of certain properties are solicited as to whether they are interested in selling land or a conservation easement to the City, but no one is forced to sell. Watershed landowners can also contact DEP directly if they are interested in discussing a potential property sale.
DEP also funds the Watershed Agricultural Council (WAC) to support acquisition of conservation easements on operating farms in the watershed. Farms are eligible for consideration if they have a Whole Farm Plan, which is a plan that circumscribes how agricultural uses can be undertaken while protecting water quality. This program also involves payment of fair market value.
In the West of Hudson Watershed, DEP acquires only vacant lands without habitable dwellings. All purchase offers are based on fair market value as determined by independent, certified appraisal companies commissioned and paid for by New York City. Following acquisition, the City pays assessed property taxes on both fee simple and conservation easements. Between 1997 and June 2011, almost 1,400 landowners had signed purchase contracts to sell close to 120,000 acres of land or easements at fair market value to DEP and WAC.
For additional information about selling watershed lands to New York City, please call 1-800-575-LAND (5263) or download the DEP Land Acquisition Program brochure.