Although the majority of land in the watershed is privately owned by local residents, New York City is also a watershed landowner with responsibilities for managing nearly 34,000 acres of reservoirs and approximately 150,000 acres of water supply lands. Although DEP’s primary management goal is watershed protection, a significant portion of City-owned lands is open to the public for a variety of recreational uses and other opportunities.
Agriculture & Forestry
DEP allows agricultural uses of City-owned watershed lands when these uses are compatible with water quality protection. Agricultural uses include tapping maple trees for sap, harvesting hay, and harvesting row crops such as corn, and pasturing livestock. Although much of this land represents former agricultural land that was abandoned, some good “bottom land” has been acquired by the City and these properties can be made available to interested parties who either contact DEP directly or respond to a DEP-issued Request for Proposals (typically issued once per year in the winter or spring).
To determine eligible agricultural properties, DEP staff visit the site and then issue a Request for Proposals through a competitive public bidding process. Interested farmers then submit a proposal that describes how the land will be used for agriculture in a manner that protects water quality. DEP does set minimum requirements such as twenty-five feet buffers along all streams and wetlands, and DEP also encourages the use of agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs) such as contour tilling, no till methods, the use of cover crops, and use of organic farming methods. Several farmers using City land are certified organic operations.
DEP actively promotes long-term forest management on City-owned watershed lands through regular forest improvement and restoration projects that are available to the public through competitive bidding. In general, DEP implements our watershed forest management plan through forest management projects, often harvesting the forests to promote forest vigor and forest regeneration through a number of silvicultural prescriptions. In some instances, salvage harvests are also conducted where forest blowdowns from weather events have occurred or where thinnings are required in response to insect outbreaks to improve the forest conditions as quickly as possible to meet DEP’s desired forest conditions for water supply protection. The detailed watershed forest management plan describes DEP’s current and desired forest conditions.
When DEP conducts a forest management project on City-owned lands, the project first undergoes a comprehensive internal review process to ensure compliance with the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), the New York City Watershed Regulations, and other applicable environmental standards such as town ordinances. The proposed timber sale is then publicly advertised through a competitive bidding process before DEP selects a winning bidder to complete the forestry job based on price, experience, and other necessary qualifications. DEP strives to actively engage watershed loggers and the local forest products industry in at least a half dozen commercial timber sales on approximately 500-1,000 acres of City-owned watershed forest lands each year.
Land Use Permits
DEP issues Revocable Land Use Permits to applicants who request the temporary use of City-owned water supply lands for specific proposed activities. Land Use Permits help to protect water quality by allowing DEP staff to review the proposed activity and set conditions for the applicant to follow. Land Use Permits are typically issued to public authorities, municipalities, government agencies, and utilities (installation or maintenance of electric, cable, telephone, water, sewer and gas), but also to not-for-profit organizations who may request access to City lands for special projects such as recreational trails or ball fields.
Land Use Permits may also be issued to individual and commercial enterprises for certain purposes where adjacent property is situated such that no alternatives exist other than using City property. In these instances, the permit recipient may be charged an annual fee based on the activity and this flat may increase each year by a cost of living adjustment or through a reimbursement to the City for taxes on the parcel used.
DEP also allows certain uses of City-owned land for short-term and low impact activities such as scientific studies. There is no charge for these types of activities but interested parties must submit a completed application at least 30 days prior to the activity. Depending on the proposed use, the application process can be lengthy because it includes a careful review of the permit application and supporting materials by multiple DEP staff with specialized scientific, engineering, real estate or legal knowledge.
The Rules governing DEP’s revocable land use permits for the use or occupation of City property can be found here: