Assistance for Homeowners & Landowners

As part of its Long-Term Watershed Protection Program, DEP offers a wealth of program opportunities and incentives that are available to help watershed landowners and homeowners voluntarily protect water quality and become good environment stewards.

Land Acquisition

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 2013, almost 1,500 landowners had signed purchase contracts to sell close to 130,000 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.

Conservation Easements

A conservation easement is a legal agreement through which a landowner agrees to permanently limit the type and amount of development on his or her property while retaining ownership and certain other rights to use of the land. Landowners who sell an easement to the City receive cash and property tax relief in return for extinguishing their development rights in perpetuity. The City’s nine million water consumers—who represent half New York State’s population—benefit from permanently protected private lands that will not be developed.

Under the City’s Conservation Easement Program, DEP buys easements at fair market value from willing sellers who then receive perpetual property tax benefits that are proportional to the easement’s value relative to the overall property.

For additional information about selling conservation easements to the City, please call 1-800-575-LAND (5263) or download DEP’s Conservation Easement Program brochure.

A unique conservation easement program has also been developed for farmers in partnership with the Watershed Agricultural Council (WAC). For more information about this program, please contact the WAC at 607-856-7790 or visit

Conservation Easement Stewardship

When the City purchases conservation easements on watershed lands, DEP assumes the long-term responsibility for monitoring these easements and working with landowners to review and/or approve certain activities as allowed by the easement.

DEP inspects all conservation easements on a regular basis, typically at times that are convenient for the landowner. Many of these inspections involve DEP staff walking the property and interacting with easement landowners to discuss salient issues. Easements may also be inspected aerially, usually when leaves are off the trees which afford a better view of the property. Landowners are always given advance written notice of all DEP easement inspections.

Many activities are allowed on conservation easement properties, with certain activities requiring DEP review and approval to ensure water quality protection. For example, on most DEP easements, agricultural use of less than ten acres is allowed as a reserved right, whereas farming more than ten acres may be allowed following DEP review and approval of a farming plan. DEP offers many resources to assist landowners in achieving their property management goals while at the same time protecting water quality from negative impacts of specific land use activities.

The sheer number of conservation easements held by DEP inevitably means that a small number of stewardship violations will occur. Violations may result from the failure of a landowner to notify DEP about a particular activity, a misunderstanding about the easement language itself, or in some cases an outright violation of the easement requirements or limitations. DEP believes that the best way to avoid easement violations is to build strong relationships with landowners so that any violations are resolved quickly and amicably.

Agriculture on Private Lands

The Watershed Agricultural Program is a partnership between New York City and the watershed farming community that reduces agricultural pollution. The Watershed Agricultural Program has been funded by the City since 1992 with additional matching funds provided through federal, State and private sources. The Program is administered locally by the not-for-profit Watershed Agricultural Council (WAC) through a contract with DEP.

The purpose of the Watershed Agricultural Program is to assist farmers in both the Catskill/Delaware and Croton Watersheds with the development and implementation of voluntary pollution prevention plans (Whole Farm Plans). Each Whole Farm Plan is developed by an interdisciplinary team of professionals—including the farmer—based on a comprehensive environmental review of the farm’s current and potential pollution problems.

Whole Farm Plans recommend a suite of Best Management Practices (BMPs) that are designed to address each farm’s environmental and operational conditions and thereby protect water quality from specific agricultural pollutants such as pathogens, nutrients, and sediment. Since 1992, the Watershed Agricultural Program has developed approximately 400 Whole Farm Plans and implemented more than 5,000 BMPs on commercial large farms and small farms in the Catskill/Delaware and Croton Watersheds.

The Watershed Agricultural Program also supports a Farmer Education Program and a “Pure Catskills” Buy Local Campaign. The Farmer Education Program teaches program participants about the operation and maintenance of their Whole Farm Plans and strives to increase their knowledge and understanding regarding animal health, nutrient management, and other agricultural topics through workshops, seminars, farm tours, pasture walks, and on-line instructional courses. “Pure Catskills” is the primary economic initiative of the Watershed Agricultural Program that strives to increase support of the local food system through events, promotional grants, farm product directories, and farm-to-market projects.

For additional information about the Watershed Agricultural Program, please contact the WAC at 607-865-7790 or visit

For specific information about the “Pure Catskills” Buy Local Campaign, please visit

Forestry on Private Lands

The Watershed Forestry Program is a partnership between New York City and the watershed forestry community that promotes sound management and stewardship of privately owned forest lands. The Watershed Forestry Program has been funded by the City since 1997 with additional matching grants provided by the U.S. Forest Service and other sources. The Program is administered locally by the not-for-profit Watershed Agricultural Council (WAC) through a contract with DEP.

The Watershed Forestry Program strives to maintain well-managed forests as a beneficial land use for water quality protection. Forests cover more than three-quarters of the watershed land area, and a similar majority of this forest land is privately owned by thousands of individuals having their own set of short- and long-term forest management goals. Encouraging private landowners to develop and implement long-term forest management plans with assistance from trained professional foresters is the cornerstone of the Watershed Forestry Program.

Since 1997, more than 850 forest management plans covering more than 130,000 watershed acres have been completed by local foresters and adopted by private landowners in the Catskill/Delaware and Croton Watersheds. Approximately 50 professional foresters are trained to write long-term forest management plans that meet specific water quality protection standards.

Once a forest management plan is completed, the program strives to reduce or eliminate water quality impacts that may occur during forest management operations by encouraging landowners, loggers and foresters to implement forestry Best Management Practices (BMPs). A particular focus is placed on minimizing the impacts of logging equipment during forestry stream crossings and reducing erosion from forest roads, skid trails, and log landings. The Program also provides assistance to landowners for improving the ecological health and economic value of their forests through timber stand improvements, riparian improvements, wildlife habitat improvements, tree planting, and invasive plant control.

Education and training are key elements of the Watershed Forestry Program. In addition to sponsoring more than a dozen logger and forester training workshops throughout the watershed each year, the program also conducts numerous landowner events, wood product training courses, and popular urban/rural school-based educational programs that are designed to teach students and teachers about the important multiple benefits of healthy watershed forests. Everyone is encouraged to visit one of three watershed model forests that have been established for education, demonstration, and research purposes.

For additional information about the Watershed Forestry Program, please contact the WAC at 607-865-7790 or visit

For information about wood products harvested and manufactured locally from the Catskill/Delaware and Croton Watersheds, please visit

Streams & Floodplains

DEP’s Stream Management Program works with local watershed partners such as county Soil and Water Conservation Districts and Cornell Cooperative Extension to provide educational, technical, and material assistance to landowners who need help managing streams and floodplains on their property. Educational programs for landowners include workshops on good stewardship practices for streams and floodplains, the use of native plants for improving streamside wildlife habitats, tips for managing undesirable invasive plants like Japanese knotweed, and the history of flooding on different watershed streams.

Through its local partners, the Stream Management Program provides technical assistance to landowners regarding Best Management Practices (BMPs) that reduce stream bank erosion and improve habitat for fish and other wildlife. Trained staff are available to meet with landowners, discuss their individual problems, and explore options that address their concerns. In streamside areas where erosion presents a hazard to life or property, staff can also help identify funding resources to help defray the cost of treating the problem.

To support the protection, enhancement and restoration of healthy forest buffers along streams, the Stream Management Program provides guidance to landowners on how to manage their streamside areas through workshops, fact sheets, and individual assistance. Staff at county Soil and Water Conservation Districts can assist eligible landowners with site planning for buffer improvement and provide trees and shrubs to restore vegetation on some sites.

For additional information about streamside assistance, please contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District, Cornell Cooperative Extension office, or visit the Catskill Streams Buffer Initiative.

Septic Systems

Septic systems are used to treat wastewater from homes and small businesses—primarily in rural and suburban areas—that aren’t served by sewer systems and treatment plants. In a properly functioning septic system, pollutant concentrations found in raw sewage are reduced through biological processes that occur in a septic tank, where solid materials settle out and the remaining liquid passes through. Upon leaving the septic tank, the liquid is dispersed through a soil absorption field where further treatment takes place. Very old and/or failing septic systems threaten both groundwater and surface water by releasing untreated or ineffectively treated wastewater into the ground or, even worse, directly into a watercourse.

DEP partners with the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) in the East of Hudson area and Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC) in the West of Hudson area to implement a series of programs designed to help protect water quality from septic system contamination. EFC is a is a public benefit corporation which provides financial and technical assistance primarily for water quality projects. The CWC is a regional not-for-profit corporation established pursuant to the 1997 Watershed Agreement to administer water quality protection and economic development programs in the Catskill/Delaware (West of Hudson) Watershed.

Septic System Rehabilitation and Replacement Program (West of Hudson)

Since 1997, DEP has committed over $100 million in funding for the Septic System Rehabilitation and Replacement Program administered by the CWC. Program funds are used to repair or replace septic systems serving one- or two-family homes in priority areas of the West of Hudson Watershed.

Eligible costs for septic program funding include septic inspections, one-time septic tank pump-outs, replacement or upgrades of failing systems, and education and outreach. CWC staff conduct initial site visits and septic inspections as well as more detailed system inspections where necessary. Septic systems that are found to be failing or substandard and likely to fail are either repaired or replaced. CWC pays 100% of eligible costs for primary residence septic systems and 60% of eligible costs for second home systems.

Through 2017, the CWC Septic Rehabilitation and Replacement Program has funded the repair or replacement of more than 5,300 failing or likely-to-fail septic systems.

For specific information regarding program rules, project eligibility, application forms, and project selection, please contact the CWC at 845-586-1400 or visit

Cluster Septic System Program (West of Hudson)

The CWC administers the $2 million Cluster Septic System Program that funds the planning, design, construction, and operation and maintenance of cluster septic systems in small population centers or hamlets where individual onsite septic systems are not practical because of small lot sizes. Eligible hamlets have failing septic systems in areas characterized by small lots that are in close proximity and located near watercourses.

For specific information regarding program rules, project eligibility, application forms, and project selection, please contact the CWC at 845-586-1400 or visit

Expanded Septic System Program (West of Hudson)

The CWC administers the Expanded Septic System Program that helps pay for the repair or replacement of failed septic systems serving small businesses (those employing 100 or fewer people), not-for-profit organizations, and governmental entities in the West of Hudson Watershed.

For specific information regarding program rules, project eligibility, application forms, and project selection, please contact the CWC at 845-586-1400 or visit

Septic System Maintenance Program (West of Hudson)

The CWC Septic System Maintenance Program is a voluntary reimbursement program intended to reduce the occurrence of septic system failures through regular septic tank pump-outs and system maintenance. DEP has provided $1.5 million in funding for this program that is open to participants in one of the West of Hudson septic repair programs or owners who installed their replaced septic systems after January 1, 1997 and whose septic tanks have not been previously pumped for at least three years.

Proper and routine septic system maintenance is vital for protecting water quality and prolonging the life of the system itself. While the cost of repairing or replacing a septic system can be very expensive, the effort and expense of routine maintenance is minimal. The key to avoiding septic failure is periodic pumping of the septic tank. Without regular pumping, sludge and scum layers become too thick and solid materials can flow from the septic tank into the soil absorption field, clogging the pipes and causing the system to fail.

For specific information regarding program rules, project eligibility, application forms, and project selection, please contact the CWC at 845-586-1400 or visit

East of Hudson Septic System Rehabilitation Reimbursement Program (East of Hudson)

DEP partners with the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) to fund and implement the East of Hudson Septic System Rehabilitation Reimbursement Program in five watershed basins in Westchester, Putnam, and Dutchess Counties. The Program reimburses eligible homeowners up to 50% of the costs for repairing or remediating failing septic systems, or to connect their septic systems to an existing sewage collection system (up to 75% in cases of demonstrated financial hardship).

Current Program areas include eligible residential properties in the Kensico, West Branch, Boyd Corners, Croton Falls, and Cross River Reservoir Basins, which includes portions of the Towns of Carmel, Kent, Southeast, East Fishkill, Somers, Bedford, Lewisboro, and Pound Ridge. Pursuant to the 2017 FAD, DEP will be working to expand the Program to include eligible properties in the East Branch, Middle Branch, Bog Brook, and Diverting Reservoir Basins.

To determine eligibility or receive additional information about program rules and restrictions, New York State residents should call the EFC at 518-486-9267.