Department of Environmental Protection Announces Final Update to Watershed Recreation Rules

May 31, 2019

Updated rules provide more access for fishing, boating and hiking across 137,000 acres

High-resolution photos of watershed recreation can be found on DEP’s Flickr page

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today released the final version of updated rules that govern access and activities on more than 137,000 acres of water supply property that are open for recreation in the watershed. The new rules, which go into effect on June 30, include many updates that will improve recreational access City’s reservoirs and the watershed lands that surround them.

DEP currently allows a wide range of low-impact recreational activities at 19 reservoirs, three lakes and thousands of acres of watershed land. These scenic areas in the Catskills and Hudson Valley include access for fishing, boating, hiking, hunting and more. To protect the water supply and promote outdoor recreation, the City governs recreational activities through a set of rules that outline requirements for permitting, the types of activities that are allowed, and the kinds of equipment that can be used on water supply property. The watershed recreation rules were last updated in 2010. Since then, DEP has expanded access to additional lands, started a successful recreational boating program on four reservoirs in the Catskills, hosted dozens of recreational events, and met with thousands of watershed residents and visitors who recreate on water supply properties. In July 2018, DEP hosted to public hearings to gather feedback on a draft update to the recreation rules. Those discussions helped to inform a number of minor changes that were included as part of the final update to the recreation rules.

Download a full version of DEP’s updated recreation rules. A detailed summary of the most important changes can be found on our website, as well. Some of the most significant changes in the final recreation rules include the following:

  • The season for recreational boating will be expanded by approximately six weeks, running from May 1 to Oct. 31. The season currently begins on Memorial Day weekend and ends on Columbus Day each year.
  • The new rules give DEP the authority to waive access permit requirements for special one-time events, such as family fishing days or reservoir cleanups, making it easier for our neighbors and visitors to participate in these events
  • The term for fishing boat tags will be extended to four years. They were previously valid for two years.
  • Anglers who use some east-of-Hudson reservoirs for ice fishing would be allowed to use electric augers. Previously only hand augers were permitted.
  • The draft updates released in 2018 included a requirement for fishing boats to be stored at least 10 feet away from the high water mark at any reservoir or lake. The final update does not include this as a requirement, but rather a recommendation to ensure that fishing boats do not float away as water levels rise in the reservoirs.
  • The final rules include two changes to improve the fairness of access for those who seek to store a fishing boat alongside DEP’s reservoirs and lakes. They include the following:
    • DEP will no longer allow the transfer of fishing boats in closed storage areas. Boat owners can sell their boat to any person at any time. Their boats are their personal property. However, they cannot sell the storage space alongside the reservoir with their boats. This practice amounted to an illegal transfer of a City-owned property interest, which violates a provision of the NYC Administrative Code.
    • DEP will also limit the number of boats that a single person can store alongside its reservoirs. There are currently 13,000 boats stored alongside the reservoirs. The vast majority of boaters (80 percent) own just one boat. Less than 5 percent own three or more boats. The current DEP Boat Management Policy will allow a person to store up to 16 boats on DEP reservoirs, but no more than eight east or west of the Hudson River. Individual reservoirs will also have limits, determined by both the reservoir size and storage capacity. Currently, less than 1 percent of boaters (85 individuals) have eight or more boats. The rules contain a grandfather provision for existing owners. Nobody will be asked to remove their boats. This change will improve access for more visitors, as some of the most popular reservoirs currently have a waiting list of nearly 500 people.
  • Hunters will now be allowed to use trail cameras for scouting game.
  • The draft updates released in 2018 included a requirement for hunters to wear blaze or safety orange for both big and small game hunting. This requirement was not included in the final rules. Rather, rules for hunting attire on DEP property will reflect whatever statewide rules are in place throughout New York.
  • Service dogs will be permitted on recreational lands.
  • School-issued identification, IDNYC, and a passport will now be accepted as forms of identification to receive a DEP Access Permit
  • Sailboats will no longer be permitted on reservoirs that allow recreational boating.
  • The launching and landing of drones from City property is prohibited.
  • Target shooting on City property is prohibited.
  • Horses on City property are prohibited.
  • Smoking, including electronic cigarettes, on City property is also prohibited to promote public health, public safety and cleanliness of our natural resources.

The City’s watershed recreation rules apply to water supply properties in Delaware, Dutchess, Greene, Putnam, Schoharie, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester counties. Over the past decade, DEP has worked in partnership with local government officials, nonprofits and outdoor recreation groups to improve and expand access for recreation. DEP currently owns more than 137,000 acres of land and water that are open for recreation in more than 400 locations throughout the watershed. A DEP Access Permit is required for recreation on the reservoirs and their immediate buffer lands. That permit can be obtained and printed from home by using DEP’s online system at Thousands of acres are also open for recreation without a DEP permit. In 2008, DEP first established Public Access Areas to allow recreation without a permit on certain watershed lands. Since then, the number of acres open for recreation without a permit has more than tripled from 20,009 to 74,115.

In 2016, DEP also released an interactive recreation mapping tool to help outdoor enthusiasts find accessible lands and waters more easily. The RecMapper utility combines maps of recreation areas with data related to parcel size, location, uses allowed on each parcel, and other helpful information. It allows users to interactively explore recreation areas by zooming in to any portion of the Croton, Catskill or Delaware watersheds. The map includes City recreation areas, and those owned and managed by the State of New York. All the recreation parcels are highlighted on the map and users can get helpful information by clicking on them. The RecMapper also includes street maps, topographic maps and satellite imagery to help users find each site and understand its steepness, forest cover and other conditions. The tool was designed to work on computers, cell phones and tablets. It is regularly updated as new recreation areas are opened. The RecMapper can be found by visiting Other information about recreation in the watershed can be found at

DEP manages New York City’s water supply, providing more than one billion gallons of water each day to more than nine million residents, including eight million in New York City. The water is delivered from a watershed that extends more than 125 miles from the city, comprising 19 reservoirs and three controlled lakes. Approximately 7,000 miles of water mains, tunnels and aqueducts bring water to homes and businesses throughout the five boroughs, and 7,500 miles of sewer lines and 96 pump stations take wastewater to 14 in-city treatment plants. DEP has nearly 6,000 employees, including almost 1,000 in the upstate watershed. In addition, DEP has a robust capital program, with a planned $19.7 billion in investments over the next 10 years that will create up to 3,000 construction-related jobs per year. For more information, visit, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.