Education Programs

Water Resources Art & Poetry Contest

Lily Y.

We invite students to share their water knowledge and express their creativity through a fun annual program. Our Water Resources Art & Poetry Contest complements STEM and the humanities, as it relates to various aspects of water and the environment. Each year, second through twelfth grade students attending public, independent, charter or parochial schools (or homeschooled) in New York City and East and West of Hudson Watersheds create original art and compose poetry that reflects an appreciation for our shared water resources.

To view student entries from our previous art and poetry contests, visit our Flickr Page.

Download and share the Water Resources Art & Poetry Contest Flyer with your students and colleagues. If you would like more information, please contact artandpoetry@dep.nyc.gov.

Participation

Second through twelfth grade public, independent, charter, parochial, and homeschooled students in New York City and the East and West of Hudson Watersheds are eligible to participate. Download the NYC Water Story Map to see watershed boundaries.

Entries

  • All entries must relate to New York’s water resources.
  • Art entries can include, but are not limited to, drawings, photographs, models, dance videos, music performances, public service announcements, or animations, for example.
  • Student entries can be submitted for an individual student, a small group or a class.
  • On the front of each entry, please include the following information:
    • Student’s first name
    • Grade
    • School
    • Borough/watershed
  • Art and poetry files need to be less than 20mb. Click here for help compressing a file.
  • Art and poetry entry files may be submitted in a jpg, pdf, wmv, mp3, or mp4 format. If submitting drawings, paintings, or 3D works, we suggest submitting a high-resolution photo or scan.
  • All entries become the property of DEP to be used for educational purposes.

Registration and Submission

  • To register and submit student entries, visit the Water Resources Art and Poetry Contest Portal.
  • Please note: we strongly encourage teachers to register and submit entries for all participating students. However, if you would like to submit an entry as a student or parent, you will be able to register and enter the contest on your own.
  • On the portal, click “Login” to sign up now using your email address. You will receive a verification code at the email address you provide. After verifying your email, you can create a password and display name. Be sure to remember your email address and password so you can login to the portal in the future.
  • After you are logged in on the homepage, click “Registration” to enter your personal, school and principal information. This information only needs to be submitted once, even if you have multiple student entries.
  • The Registration asks for the following information:
    • Your name, email address, and phone number
    • Are you a teacher, student, parent, or other
    • School/organization name, address, and borough/watershed
    • Principal name and email address
  • After you review your information for accuracy, click “Submit”.
  • Now you can begin submitting student entries, click “Entries” and then “Create Entry”.
  • To include a student entry, you will be asked for the following information:
    • Entry type (individual student, small group, or class)
    • Student name and grade
    • Is this an art or poetry entry
    • Title of student entry
    • File attachment
  • If this is a small group entry, you will be asked to include a group name and the names of all students in the group. If this is a class entry, you will only be asked to include the class name.
  • Before attaching the entry file, be sure the file name is the student first name, underscore (_), last name, such as John_Doe.
  • If this is a video or other large file, consider uploading to TeacherTube, YouTube, Vimeo or another online sharing platform (WeTransfer, Dropbox, etc.), and sharing the link in the space provided on the form. Please be sure the shared link can be opened by anyone who clicks on the link.
  • After entering the student information, press “Create” to submit the entry and return to your Entries page. Feel free to add as many student entries as necessary before the contest deadline.
  • You will receive a confirmation to the email address you provided for each student entry you submit. You should verify that you receive these emails and be sure to carefully review your student entries for accuracy.
  • To update your entries or submit additional student entries before the contest deadline, simply log back into the portal using your email address and password and visit the Entries page.
  • If you are experiencing any difficulty logging in, please download and review our detailed Water Resources Art and Poetry Contest user guide and view our recorded demonstration for more instructions. For additional questions, please contact artandpoetry@dep.nyc.gov.

Judging

  • Entries are judged based on creativity in interpreting one or more of the contest themes, accuracy of information, originality and skill.
  • An impartial panel of judges will review the entries, and select art and poetry winners called Water Champions, from each of the following grade categories—Grades 2–3, Grades 4–5, Grades 6–7, Grades 8–9, and Grades 10–12. Please notify us about your student participants with special needs.
  • All student Water Champions and Water Ambassadors (all other student entries) will be recognized for their outstanding art and poetry.

Timeline

  1. Entries will be accepted from January 10–March 3, 2023
  2. Registrants will be notified of student winners by April.
  3. A celebration will take place in the spring.

Themes

Entries can address an original idea that relates to NYC’s water resources or one or more of the following topic questions.

Water—A precious resource

Why is water valuable to us?

Water is valuable to us because it is the source of life for all living creatures, including humans. Less than 1% of Earth’s water is fresh and available, making freshwater a limited resource on our planet. Our clean, reliable water supply is something many New Yorkers take for granted. But for hundreds of years, clean water was not a fact of life for the people of our city. In 1842, more than 180 years ago, clean water flowed for the first time from upstate reservoirs into New York City. Today, an amazing system of reservoirs and lakes, aqueducts, tunnels and water mains distributes approximately 1 billion gallons of water daily to over 9 million people. Throughout its history, New York City’s ability to provide a reliable source of water for its citizens has allowed it to grow and develop into a great urban center.

Why is it important to drink NYC tap water?

NYC tap water helps you maintain a healthy weight because water contains zero calories, zero sugar and zero fat. A typical 12-ounce can of soda contains about 150 calories and the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar. Sports drinks, which are marketed as healthy alternatives, have as many calories as sugary beverages and usually contain high levels of sodium. Drinking just one 20 ounce soda a day translates to eating 50 pounds of sugar a year. Many of us consume too much sugar without realizing it. Sugar in sweetened drinks contains extra calories that can lead to obesity and diabetes. Drinking NYC water is not only good for you; it is a great alternative to sugary drinks and helps you stay in shape.

What are some reasons to drink tap water rather than bottled water?

It’s Healthy: NYC tap water helps you maintain a healthy weight because water contains zero calories, zero sugar and zero fat. A typical 12-ounce can of soda contains about 150 calories and the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar. Sports drinks, which are marketed as healthy alternatives, have as many calories as sugary beverages and usually contain high levels of sodium.

It’s Affordable: NYC water is a great deal. At approximately one penny per gallon, it is about 1,000 times less expensive than bottled water.

It’s Green: Plastic water bottles produced for the U.S. use 1.5 million barrels of oil a year—enough to power 250,000 homes or 100,000 cars all year. And it takes more than 3 liters of water to produce each bottled liter of water.

It’s Convenient: NYC water is available right from your tap. Our Water-On-the-Go fountains also make tap water easy to get in public places in each of the five boroughs during the summer.

Is water valued beyond NYC?

Yes! In December 2017, the member states of the United Nations decided that from 2018 until 2028 they will work together on worldwide water challenges. This period of 10 years is called “The Water Action Decade.” The goals of the decade are to prevent floods, droughts, and water pollution. But also, to realize that more people need better access to clean drinking water and proper sanitation. For example, 2.2 billion people around the world are living without access to safe water! In March 2023, the countries of the United Nations will come together in NYC to talk about water solutions. Representatives will also agree on actions so that at the end of the decade in 2028 water is managed better worldwide. The conference will take place around World Water Day on March 22. Every year on this day the world celebrates water and takes action to solve water problems.

How can you be involved in the United Nations Water Conference in NYC this year?

In March 2023, the world will gather in NYC for a United Nations Conference dedicated to water. The goals of the conference are to unite the world and create awareness on water as an enabler, accelerator and solution for the sustainable development of our planet, now and in the future. A Water Week of fun and educational events will be organized to help connect people to NYC”s unique waterways and the watersheds we live in. As a student, you can help by thinking critically, being curious, and understanding the magnitude of global water challenges. Working together is Important for our future!

During the New York Water Week, you could:

  • Bring the UN Water Conference to the attention of your fellow students and teachers at school, especially on World Water Day, March 22.
  • Explore your own neighborhood with your class and think about ways to protect your local waterways. Continue reading through these Contest Themes for some ideas!
  • Research and compare other U.S. cities addressing water and climate challenges: Miami, New Orleans, and San Francisco, for example. Can water and climate solutions used in these cities also be used in NYC? Would it be possible to work together on water solutions?
  • NYC is a coastal city! Research and explore other coastal cities around the world, like Venice in Italy, Manilla in the Philippines, Cartagena in Colombia, and Jakarta in Indonesia. What are the problems these cities face and what are their solutions? Could NYC and other cities across the world learn from each other?

The New York City Water Supply System

What is a watershed? How do the New York City watersheds supply us with water?

A watershed is a geographic area whose rainfall, snowmelt, streams and rivers all flow or drain into a common body of water, such as a reservoir, lake or bay. Ultimately, most watersheds in the U.S. drain into the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans or the Gulf of Mexico. Whether your drinking water comes from a surface supply—reservoirs, rivers or lakes—or underground sources called aquifers, everyone lives in a watershed. Water quality protection is important for all of us.

New York City’s drinking water supply comes from the Croton Watershed (East of Hudson) and from the Catskill and Delaware Watersheds (West of Hudson). The New York City water supply system is comprised of 19 reservoirs and three controlled lakes which are located as far as 125 miles away from the City’s five boroughs and are interconnected by a complex series of tunnels and aqueducts.

What is the history of the New York City Water Supply System?

Indigenous communities, such as the Lenape, relied on freshwater springs, streams, and ponds for a water supply close to where they lived. By the 1600s, early Dutch and British colonists obtained groundwater from shallow, privately owned wells. In 1677, the first public well was dug in front of the old fort at Bowling Green. In 1776, when the population reached approximately 22,000, a reservoir was constructed on the east side of Broadway between Pearl and White Streets. Water was distributed through hollow logs laid in the main streets. After exploring alternatives for increasing supply, the City decided to obtain more freshwater from the Croton River, in what is now Westchester County, and to build an aqueduct to carry it to the City. This aqueduct, known today as the Old Croton Aqueduct, had a capacity of about 90 million gallons per day (mgd) and was placed into service in 1842. Water flowed by gravity to two distribution reservoirs located in Manhattan at 42nd Street (discontinued in 1890) and in Central Park south of 86th Street (discontinued in 1925). In 1883, a commission was formed to build a second aqueduct from the Croton Watershed as well as additional storage reservoirs. This aqueduct, known as the New Croton Aqueduct, was placed into service in 1890.

Demand for water continued to grow as the City consolidated into the five boroughs of Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. In 1905 the Board of Water Supply was created by the State Legislature. After careful study, the City decided to develop the Catskill Mountain region as an additional water source. The Board of Water Supply proceeded to construct dams to impound the waters of the Esopus Creek in the Catskills. This project created the Catskill System, including the Catskill Aqueduct, Ashokan Reservoir completed in 1915 and the Schoharie Reservoir in 1926. In 1927, the Board of Water Supply submitted a plan to develop the upper tributaries of the Delaware River within the State of New York. However, work was delayed by an action brought by the State of New Jersey in the Supreme Court of the United States to prevent the City and State of New York from using the waters of any Delaware River tributary. In May 1931, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the right of the City to increase its water supply using the headwaters of the Delaware River. Construction of the Delaware System began in 1937 and was completed in 1964, including the Delaware Aqueduct, and the Rondout, Neversink, Pepacton, and Cannonsville Reservoirs. People living in the Catskill Mountains at this time sacrificed a lot to make way for the new water systems. Eminent domain was used to remove farms, cemeteries, and entire villages from the region to build large dams and new reservoirs. The City also required watershed communities to meet new sanitary standards to keep local farms and sewers from polluting the water supply.

Today, water for New York City comes from three upstate supply systems that include 19 reservoirs and three controlled lakes with a total storage capacity of approximately 570 billion gallons.

Why are the historic High Bridge and Central Park Reservoir important?

This year marks the 175th anniversary of the High Bridge! The High Bridge is New York City’s oldest standing bridge and the most celebrated part of the famed Old Croton Aqueduct. It is also an engineering marvel. The central element of the original Croton water system, it once carried water across the Harlem River from the mainland to Manhattan Island in pipes still beneath its deck. The 41-mile Old Croton Aqueduct was world famous when it first delivered water to New York City on July 4, 1842. By 1848 water flowed by gravity from the Croton Reservoir in Westchester County, across the Harlem River on the High Bridge, eventually filling two above-ground reservoirs on the present sites of the Great Lawn in Central Park and the New York Public Library on 42nd Street in Manhattan. Thirty-six million gallons of water a day flowed across the High Bridge in two 36-inch cast iron pipes. The flow was increased in 1862 when a 90-inch diameter wrought iron pipe was laid above the original pipes. The High Bridge is 1,450 feet long and the walkway is 123-feet above the high water mark of the river. Originally, 15 Roman-style granite arches graced the bridge; the five arches spanning the river were later replaced with a single steel arch to facilitate river navigation. The High Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is part of the Old Croton Aqueduct National Historic Landmark designation. It has a new life as a great public space and greenway link, so take a walk across the High Bridge today and learn about the history of the New York City Water Supply System.

Learn more about the High Bridge

The Central Park Reservoir was renamed the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in 1994, after the widow of the late President John F. Kennedy and Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. When originally constructed in 1862, it was called Lake Manahatta. It served as additional storage for the nearby 35-acre Yorkville Reservoir built by the City as a distributing reservoir for the Croton water system, New York’s first out-of-city water supply system located in Westchester County. Today the Central Park Reservoir plays an important role in the City’s ecology. Woodchucks, turtles, waterfowl—including the rare double-breasted cormorants—and many fish species make the reservoir home. Plant life such as cattails, sumac, maples and elms, as well as cherry trees that were a gift from the Japanese, are also visible around the reservoir.

Where does New York City’s drinking water come from?

New York City’s drinking water supply comes from the rain and snow that falls on three watersheds in upstate New York: the Croton Watershed (East of Hudson), and Catskill and Delaware Watersheds (West of Hudson). NYC’s water supply system covers a large area of forests, farms, and towns of eight counties, east and west of the Hudson River. Within the watersheds, freshwater flows into streams, rivers, and tunnels before collecting in 19 reservoirs and three protected lakes. Every day, one billion gallons of clean drinking water is supplied to New Yorkers, traveling from as far as 125 miles away through an essential system of aqueducts, tunnels, and water mains.

How do well-managed forests keep water clean?

The quality of our source waters in the Catskill and Delaware watersheds depends on the health and vitality of upstate forests. Because forests cover more than 75% of the 1.2 million acres in the New York City watershed area, rain and snowmelt that drains into watershed streams, lakes and reservoirs is naturally filtered. Overhanging tree branches and roots keep water cool and provide habitats for wildlife. Tree roots also help provide stability to soil, reducing erosion, and absorb runoff, reducing excess nutrients getting into watershed streams and reservoirs. Poorly managed forests can increase the amount of nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorous, that enter our water supply and degrade overall water quality.

How is water distributed throughout New York City? What is City Water Tunnel No. 3?

Water is distributed by tunnels in New York City. Tunnel No. 1 was put into service in 1917 and Tunnel No. 2 in 1936. City Tunnel No. 3 is a project that will allow for the inspection and repair of City Tunnels No. 1 and 2.

City Tunnel No. 3 is the largest capital construction project in New York City’s history and is one of the world’s engineering marvels. Construction began in 1970 and will soon be completed at a total cost of $6 billion. The tunnel was built in four stages and totals more than 60 miles in length.

How do scientists, engineers and other staff make sure our water is safe to drink?

Each year, we produce a Drinking Water Supply and Quality Report. This report is prepared in accordance with the New York State Sanitary Code, the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The regulations require all drinking water suppliers to provide the public with an annual statement describing the sources and quality of its water supply. Water quality results and water quality testing is presented in this report.

Read the Drinking Water Supply and Quality Report

How much water do you use daily?

New York City uses approximately one billion gallons of water every day. The average New Yorker uses more than 100 gallons of water each day. To calculate your daily water use, use our Water Use Calculation Worksheet. After determining how much water you use each day at home and school, consider how much water you consume in total, including the food we eat, clothing we wear, technology we use, and more! Visit the Water Footprint Calculator to learn more.

For a map of how much water is being consumed today: Current Reservoir Levels.

How are trout good indicators of clean water?

Trout are indicators of clean water because they are very sensitive to changes in their environment. A change in water temperature, water clarity, dissolved oxygen, ammonia levels and pH could adversely affect trout populations and their survival.

Learn more about the Trout in the Classroom program

How do watershed farmers help protect water quality?

Farmers help protect water quality by utilizing best management practices that do not release agricultural pollutants such as pathogens, nutrients, and sediment into nearby streams that flow into reservoirs. They can also protect water quality by having a strong knowledge and understanding regarding animal health, nutrient management, and other agricultural topics.

How is New York City repairing the Delaware Aqueduct?

The Delaware Aqueduct supplies approximately 50% of NYC’s daily water needs and will require a shutdown for six to eight months as we connect and test a bypass tunnel that is currently being constructed parallel to the aqueduct. Since the 1990s, we have been monitoring leaks in a portion of the Delaware Aqueduct that are estimated to release about 20 million gallons of water per day. To repair the leaks, we developed a plan to temporarily shut down the leaking portion of the aqueduct to carry out repairs. During this temporary shutdown, scheduled for 2023, water from the Delaware system west of the Hudson River will be unavailable. To ensure a continued supply of drinking water during this time, we have developed projects to optimize water supply and encourage water conservation citywide.

The New York City Wastewater Treatment System

What happens to the water we use after it goes down the drain?

Used water goes into New York City’s extensive wastewater treatment system. This amazing system that cleans our wastewater consists of a network of over 7,500 miles of sewer pipes, 144,000 stormwater catch basins, 96 wastewater pumping stations that transport it to 14 wastewater resource recovery facilities located throughout the five boroughs.

How do New York City’s wastewater resource recovery facilities work?

Wastewater resource recovery facilities, also called wastewater treatment plants or water pollution control plants, remove pollutants from wastewater before clean water is released to local waterways. At the facilities, physical and biological processes closely mimic how wetlands, rivers, streams and lakes naturally purify water. Treatment is quick, taking only about seven hours to remove most of the pollutants from the wastewater. In the natural environment, this process could take many weeks and nature alone cannot handle the volume of wastewater that New York City produces. At the City’s wastewater resource recovery facilities, wastewater undergoes five major processes: preliminary treatment, primary treatment, secondary treatment, disinfection and finally, sludge treatment. Primary and secondary treatments remove about 85% to 95% of pollutants from the wastewater before the treated wastewater is disinfected and released into local waterways. Sludge, the solid organic waste in wastewater, is digested and is then dewatered. The resulting material, known as biosolids, can then be applied to land to improve vegetation or processed further as compost or fertilizer. As sludge is digested, methane gas (called biogas) is also recovered and can be used for electricity and heating needs at the facilities.

What is the Visitor Center at Newtown Creek and the Newtown Creek Nature Walk?

The Visitor Center at Newtown Creek is located at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Resource Recovery Facility, the largest of the 14 wastewater treatment facilities in the City. The Visitor Center features interpretative exhibits, scale models, and an enriching educational experience. Students, educators, and the public can schedule a visit to the Visitor Center at Newtown Creek to see a complex, working facility and learn more about the process of wastewater treatment in NYC.

Learn more about the Visitor Center at Newtown Creek

The Newtown Creek Nature Walk is a half–mile public walkway along Newtown Creek. The walk affords visitors a unique view of the settling tanks and digesters at our Newtown Creek Wastewater Resource Recovery Facility, and is a good place to explore and learn about wastewater treatment, harbor water quality, and the history of New York City

Learn more about the Newtown Creek Nature Walk

Harbor Water Quality and Healthy Marine Ecosystems

Why is Jamaica Bay important and how can we help protect it?

Jamaica Bay is a 31-square-mile water body with a broader watershed of approximately 142 square miles, which includes portions of Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau County. The bay is a diverse ecological resource that supports multiple habitats, including open water, salt marshes, grasslands, coastal woodlands, maritime shrublands, and brackish and freshwater wetlands. These habitats support 91 fish species, 325 species of birds, and many reptile, amphibian, and small mammal species.

What is the Staten Island Bluebelt and why is it important?

The Staten Island Bluebelt is an innovative, ecologically sound and cost-effective stormwater management technique for approximately one third of Staten Island’s land area. The program preserves natural drainage corridors, called Bluebelts, including streams, ponds, and other wetland areas. Preservation of these wetland systems allows them to perform their natural functions of conveying, storing, and filtering stormwater. In addition, the Bluebelts provide important community open spaces and diverse wildlife habitats. The Bluebelt Program saves tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure costs when compared to providing conventional storm sewers for the same land area. This program demonstrates how wetland preservation can be economically prudent and environmentally responsible.

Learn more about the Staten Island Bluebelt

Why do we need to keep storm drains clear and streets litter-free?

It is important to keep storm drains clear and streets litter-free because litter in the street can be washed into the City’s storm drains (catch basins) when it rains. Some of this litter ends up at NYC’s wastewater resource recovery facilities, but some may end up in our Harbor as well. When litter and debris become water-borne, these items are known as floatables. Common floatables include plastic and glass bottles, plastic bags, cigarette butts, paper and wrappers, takeout containers, and aluminum cans. These items are unsightly and can harm fish and other wildlife that become entangled in them or mistakenly eat them. Some floatables can take hundreds of years to decompose; the litter we create today will still be a problem for many years to come.

What are combined sewer overflows (CSOs)?

Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) happen when a wastewater resource recovery facility or parts of the Sewer System get too full, usually when there is a big rain event or snowstorm. When this occurs, a diluted mix of untreated wastewater and stormwater may be diverted directly to our waterways. We supply an online waterbody advisory application to see how rainfall has impacted NYC waterways.

What is the municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4)?

The municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) is part of the City’s Sewer System that collects stormwater runoff that then drains into our waterways. As stormwater flows over streets and other impervious surfaces (like sidewalks and rooftops), it sweeps up pollutants such as oils, chemicals, pathogens, sediments, and litter. These pollutants can harm fish and other wildlife. By keeping our streets and catch basins clean, we can protect harbor water quality and marine ecosystems.

What is the impact of plastic pollution on the ocean?

Plastics are one of the biggest polluters of the ocean and can take many forms: plastics that we use every day at home and school (lunch bags, Styrofoam cups, bottles, and balloons), plastic from industrial products, as well as lost or discarded fishing gear. Once these plastics find their way into our ocean, they negatively impact marine life. For example, loggerhead sea turtles and ocean sunfish mistake plastic bags for their favorite food, jellies (commonly known as jellyfish). Smaller microplastics, including those found in household products, like some kinds of toothpaste and face wash, also make their way into the ocean because they are too small to be filtered out by our wastewater treatment system. Once in our waterways, they are eaten by different kinds of fish, and ultimately can end up on our own dinner plates!

How has harbor water quality changed throughout the last 100 years?

New York Harbor is making a comeback and the signs are all around. According to our most recent Harbor Survey Report, the Harbor is cleaner now than at any time in more than 100 years. Continued improvements to sewage handling and treatment are chiefly responsible for continued improvements to water quality, which have led to increased recreational opportunities such as swimming and fishing. We operate 14 wastewater resource recovery facilities that together treat around 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater each day, and the agency also employs a fleet of boats that are used to monitor the waters and the shoreline for water quality and sources of pollution. Thanks to cleaner waters and an abundance of food, more whales, dolphins, and other large aquatic species have returned to New York Harbor in recent years!

Are there sharks in New York?

You bet there are! In fact, New York’s ocean waters are home to 26 different species of shark, from the relatively small spiny dogfish all the way up to the basking shark, the 2nd largest fish in the world! And that’s not all. Our local waters are also home to 14 species of skates and rays, which are close cousins of sharks but flat. You can even find skate egg cases—sometimes called “mermaid purses”—on beaches right here in New York City!

Learn more about sharks

Do we have corals in New York?

Yes! New York’s waters never cease to amaze with all the species found in and around them. When people think of corals, they usually think of bright coral reefs found in clear, shallow tropical waters. However, there are many kinds of corals found at different latitudes across the globe. Here in New York, we have cold-water corals that live at deep ocean depths. Unlike their tropical relatives, deep-sea corals do not require sunlight and do not possess the small, photosynthetic algae called zooxanthellae that provide them with food. Instead, deep-sea corals are solely suspension feeders, filtering out small phytoplankton from the water column around them.

Learn more about marine ecosystems and visit the New York Aquarium

What is a catadromous fish?

A catadromous fish lives in fresh water for the majority of its life and then travels to salt water to spawn. An important catadromous fish species in New York is the American eel, Anguilla rostrata. These eels migrate over a thousand miles from New York out to the Sargasso Sea, an area within the Atlantic Ocean, when it is their time to spawn. In order to make the long journey, their bodies undergo amazing transformations that turn them from bottom, mud-dwelling species to elite long-distance ocean swimmers. Their entire digestive tract breaks down because they do not eat on their long journey; their eyes double in size to better see in deep water; and their swim bladders undergo changes to allow for better buoyancy. Although a popular food and bait source for humans, much of the life history of the American eel still remains a mystery.

Why is the American eel in trouble?

Currently, the American eel is listed as “Endangered” under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, with the population facing multiple threats. Some of the most notable threats include barriers to migration, habitat degradation and over-fishing. Over time, many of the streams and rivers that eels navigate have been blocked by dams and other forms of development along the waterways. This blockage has inhibited the American eels from reaching their historic habitats. The habitats that are left are becoming more degraded as pollution and development occur. Additionally, the over-harvesting of glass eels (the early life stage of the eel) for human consumption has caused a decline in population. Although the vast majority of harvesting occurred decades ago, the population effects are long lasting due to the eel’s slow rate of maturation.

What is the Hudson Canyon?

The Hudson Canyon is a deep-sea canyon located 100 miles off the coast of New York. The canyon is the largest off the U.S. Atlantic Coast and one of the largest submarine canyons in the world. The canyon is especially important because it supports a vast number of marine species. From migratory species like whales and sharks that pass above the canyon, to fish and crustaceans that live within it, the Hudson Canyon is a hotspot for biodiversity.

Learn more about marine ecosystems and visit the New York Aquarium

What is Long Island Sound?

Long Island Sound is one of the five important estuaries in New York. Estuaries are called “nurseries of the sea” because so many marine animals are born and spend the early part of their lives there. This is because the mixing of freshwater, from rivers, and saltwater, from the ocean, brings lots of nutrients and food to this habitat. Long Island Sound is home to more than 1,200 species of invertebrates, 170 species of fish, and dozens of species of migratory and resident birds. Additionally, many people live or spend time in the watersheds of Long Island Sound. The Sound is used by ferries, ships, and barges to transport people and goods into deep water harbors. People also harvest oysters, crabs, and lobsters from its waters and fish such as bluefish, striped bass, winter flounder, and more! We can be proud of this “Estuary of National Significance” and celebrate by visiting its shores and doing all we can to keep it healthy.

Learn more about the Long Island Sound Study

Water Stewardship and Climate Change—What can we do to help?

How can we conserve water in our everyday lives?

We can conserve water on a daily basis in many simple ways.

  • Taking short showers can save 2 to 5 gallons a minute.
  • Shutting the faucet off when we are not using the water, for example, while we brush our teeth or wash the dishes.
  • Repairing leaky faucets and turning taps off tightly. A slow drip wastes 15 to 20 gallons each day.
  • Installing water-saving toilets, showerheads, and faucet aerators. Place a plastic bottle filled with water in your toilet tank if you can’t switch to a low-flow toilet.
  • Using a self-closing nozzle on your hose.
  • Filling up dishwashers and washing machines with a full load when washing dishes or doing laundry.

Learn more about water saving tips

How can we help reduce the amount of stormwater in our sewers?

  • We can help reduce the amount of stormwater in our sewers by installing curbside rain gardens (also known as bioswales). Runoff from the street is diverted by curb cut and routed into a rain garden, where specially engineered soils and native plant species are used to absorb water and filter associated pollutants. In some rain gardens, storage chambers hold additional runoff, available for plant uptake or groundwater recharge.
  • We can help reduce the amount of stormwater in our sewers by using rain barrels. Rain barrels capture stormwater from your roof and store it for future use such as watering your lawn or garden. Rain barrels connect directly to your existing downspout, so that as soon as the barrel is full, the excess stormwater drains normally to the city’s sewer system.
  • We can help reduce the amount of stormwater in our sewers by installing blue and green roofs. Installing source controls on existing rooftops is an important strategy that we are pursuing to reduce stormwater runoff from entering the sewers because rooftops comprise almost a third of New York City’s total impervious surface area.

What are green and blue roofs?

  • Green roofs consist of a vegetative layer that grows in a specially designed soil, which sits on top of a drainage layer. Green roofs are more costly than conventional roofs, but they are capable of absorbing and retaining large amounts of stormwater. In addition, green roofs provide sustainability benefits such as absorbing air and noise pollution, rooftop cooling by reducing UV radiation absorption, creating living environments for birds, and increasing the quality-of-life for residents.

  • Blue roofs are non-vegetated source controls that detain stormwater. Weirs at the roof drain inlets and along the roof can create temporary ponding and gradual release of stormwater. Blue roofs are less costly than green roofs. Coupled with light colored roofing material they can provide sustainability benefits through rooftop cooling.

Learn more about green infrastructure in New York City

How are water and energy related?

Water and energy consumption are interdependent—the more water we use, the more energy we need, and vice versa. Approximately four percent of the nation’s electricity is used just for moving and treating drinking water and wastewater. Conversely, it takes 3,000 to 6,000 gallons of water annually to power just one 60-watt incandescent bulb for 12 hours per day. While New York City’s Water Supply System was engineered to rely heavily on the force of gravity to carry drinking water over 100 miles from watersheds to the city, NYC’s sewer pipes and wastewater treatment system require more than gravity alone to transport and treat used water. Due to the immense energy exerted to transport and treat wastewater, our 14 wastewater resource recovery facilities and 96 pumping stations throughout the city contribute to one of the largest municipal energy uses. It is important to be aware of your water and energy consumption and the link between them. Conserving energy conserves water and conserving water conserves energy.

Learn more about Water Conservation

How can we help protect watersheds?

It’s important to remember that we all live within a watershed, and any activities that happen on land can directly and indirectly impact the health of nearby waterways. We can protect our upstate watersheds by learning about their history, how they work and where they are located and then educating our peers about New York City’s water supply system. We can also conserve water every day and be sure not to waste our shared water resources.

What can we do to help keep harbor water clean and marine ecosystems healthy?

We can help keep harbor water clean by helping to keep our streets and storm drains pollutant-free. Simple everyday changes can make a big difference.

Here are some ways we can help:

  • Keep litter off our streets. Litter on the streets can end up in our waterways. This negatively affects harbor water quality and harms marine ecosystems. Always put trash and recycling where it belongs. Get involved in community clean-ups in your neighborhood or coastal clean-ups along the City’s beaches and shorelines.
  • Choose reusable items when possible. When you take water to go, make the extra effort to fill up a reusable bottle with fresh NYC drinking water to reduce the number of plastic bottles ending up in our waterways. Encourage family and friends to bring a reusable bag the next time they go shopping at the grocery store.
  • Always pick up after pets. Pet waste contains bacteria that can make people sick and excess nutrients that can deprive fish of oxygen. If left on the ground, it can wash into our waterways.
  • Keep our cars well-maintained. Our cars use many fluids that can be harmful to marine ecosystems. Promptly fix any fluid leaks and be sure to clean up any spills that occur. If you perform your own automotive maintenance, many repair shops will accept recycled motor oil.
  • Properly dispose of potentially polluting waste. Things like household cleaners, medicine, paint, and used oil can harm harbor water quality and marine ecosystems. Always dispose of these items in an appropriate manner.
  • Install a water-harvesting device to capture roof runoff. Rain barrels and cisterns help collect stormwater runoff and prevent stormwater from reaching waterways which reduces the potential for pollution.
  • Learn about a local wildlife conservation organization. Learn how other organizations are helping keep our harbor water clean and safe for wildlife, and how you can get involved.
  • Become a Harbor Protector! Harbor Protectors are environmental stewards that volunteer to keep neighborhoods clean and pollution out of waterways. DEP invites Harbor Protectors to help clean and stencil catch basins, care for rain gardens, and participate in shoreline clean-up events.

What is the best way to dispose of cooking grease and other household products?

If not properly handled, certain products can clog our sewer system or end up in local waterways and harm our environment. Cooking grease poured down the drain clogs pipes in your home and city sewers. Clogged sewer lines cause sewage backups into your home and neighborhood, and can also cause sewage to be released into city waterways, harming water quality and the environment.

In order to prevent grease clogs:

  • Don’t pour oil or grease down the drain.
  • Don’t wash cooking oil or grease from dishes, pots and pans down the drain.
  • Do place cooled cooking oil, grease and fat in sealed containers and discard with your regular garbage.
  • Do dry wipe oil and grease off dishes, pots and pans with a paper towel before washing; then discard paper towels in trash.
  • Do scrape food scraps from dishes into trash and dispose of properly.

Wet wipes, paper towels and other household products that you flush down your toilet enter our sewer system and mix with the grease that you have poured down your sink. This mix of personal hygiene products and grease can create “fatbergs” in our sewers. Remember to only flush the 4 Ps down the drain (pee, poop, puke, and (toilet) paper!

Learn more about the “Trash It. Don’t Flush It.” campaign

What are fire hydrants for and why must they be used properly?

Fire hydrants are used for fire prevention. They allow fire fighters to access water in order to stop fires.

Opening fire hydrants without spray caps is wasteful and dangerous. Illegally opened hydrants can lower water pressure, which can cause problems at hospitals and other medical facilities and hinder firefighting by reducing the flow of water to hoses and pumps. Children can also be at serious risk, because the powerful force of an open hydrant without a sprinkler cap can push them into oncoming traffic.

Hydrants can be opened legally if equipped with a City-approved spray cap. One illegally opened hydrant wastes up to 1,000 gallons of water per minute, while a hydrant with a spray cap only puts out around 25 gallons per minute. Visit your local firehouse to have a spray cap installed.

What is climate change?

Climate change is the rise of average temperature around the world. In New York City, mean annual temperature has increased 4.4°F from 1900 to 2011. Rising global temperatures have also been accompanied by other changes in weather and climate. Many places are now experiencing changes in rainfall resulting in more intense rain and droughts, as well as more frequent and severe heat waves. The planet’s oceans and glaciers have also experienced changes: oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, ice caps are melting, and sea levels are rising. All of these changes are evidence that our world is getting warmer, and climates are changing. Over the last century, NYC has seen an average annual precipitation increase of 7.7 inches and a rise in sea level of 1.1 feet. Coastal storms like Hurricane Sandy are not the only threats New York City faces. Other “extreme” events such as heavy rains, heat waves, droughts, and high winds also leave the city more vulnerable. Chronic conditions, such as rising sea levels, higher average temperatures, and increased annual precipitation have direct impacts on New York City and can make the effects of extreme events worse.

What is the greenhouse effect?

Naturally occurring greenhouse gases (GHGs), such as water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), play a critical role in determining the Earth’s temperature. Thermal energy from the sun passes through the atmosphere towards the surface of the Earth; most of it is absorbed and then heats the Earth. The Earth’s surface then emits heat in the form of infrared radiation back to the atmosphere, some of which is lost to space and some of which remains in the atmosphere. The GHGs naturally occurring in the atmosphere redirect some of this infrared radiation back to the Earth, which has an additional warming effect and helps maintain the planet’s habitability. However, with an increase in GHG emissions like carbon dioxide and methane, more of the reflected energy is absorbed and redirected toward Earth, dramatically increasing Earth’s temperature. This process is commonly known as the “greenhouse effect.”

Learn more about the greenhouse gas effect

Who and what is causing climate change?

The Earth does go through natural cycles of warming and cooling, caused by factors such as changes in the sun or volcanic activity. However, the warming we have seen in the past 50 years cannot be explained by natural factors alone. It is human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels and land use changes that have produced unprecedented quantities of heat-trapping GHGs, which are contributing to climate change. Most worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are from energy use for electricity, heating, and transportation. Such everyday activities as turning on the lights, running the faucet, and traveling to school, not only use energy, but also contribute to the need for the mass burning of fossil fuels needed for power plants, large scale buildings and construction, motor vehicles and mass transit, and wastewater treatment.

How does climate change affect the water cycle?

As climate change warms the atmosphere and alters the hydrological cycle, we will continue to witness changes to the amount, timing, form, and intensity of precipitation and the flow of water in watersheds. We will also see changes in the quality of aquatic and marine environments. These changes are also likely to affect the practices designed to protect the quality of water resources and public health.

What are the risks that climate change poses to our water supply and wastewater treatment systems?

In NYC, increased precipitation events are a major impact of climate change. Increased intensity and frequency of rainfall can result in flooding and Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) events, which will release a greater amount of untreated wastewater directly into our local waterways. The change in precipitation patterns will affect the flow of water within the watersheds, altering and limiting the amount and quality of water we have access to. A changing climate will also impact the complex web of life, functionality, and productivity within forests; such invaluable forest habitats make up 75% of NYC’s watersheds and play an important role in protecting the quality of water. Also, as temperatures rise, farms and fisheries will likely face increasing problems with productivity, potentially damaging livelihoods and the regional economy.

Learn more about the impacts to NYC

How can I adapt to effects climate change may have on our water supply?

Whether climate change is increasing or decreasing rainfall in your area, the most important thing you can do is to start or continue to conserve water and energy. Using less water alleviates the pressure that a drought places on the water supply as well as alleviating the pressure on wastewater resource recovery facilities. Also, by conserving water when it rains, we can help reduce flow in sewers and decrease the amount of untreated water entering our waterways through Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) events.

Are concepts of STEM present at DEP?

Concepts of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) are present at DEP in both careers and projects. Engineers and scientists are crucial to providing clean and safe water. Scientists are responsible for studying water quality and researching new techniques that will improve NYC’s Water Supply System and local waterways. Engineers are responsible for taking that information and developing it into tangible solutions for the city’s infrastructure. In order to adapt to a changing climate, our scientists and engineers have been working on new ways to protect our water supply and become more resilient by implementing sustainable practices in our watershed and at wastewater resource recovery facilities. Planners and engineers are designing ways to reduce the amount of water we use every day. Engineers are working to repair a large leak in the Delaware Aqueduct. Low-flush toilets in public schools, more efficient shower heads in parks, and an improved leak detection program are additional examples. Engineered green infrastructure contributes to managing stormwater, reducing Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) events, and mitigating the effects of increased precipitation events caused by climate change, which will aid in protecting our local waterways.

Learn more about DEP careers