Natasha Ishak

Amid the environmental chaos erupting across the country, a significant gain for New York’s local environment took place on Monday. Ridgewood Reservoir was officially designated as a wetland by the state, granting permanent protected status to the 150-year-old water reserve.

It was a years-long struggle led by community activists and local elected officials. The new status means that any changes to the reservoir site, mostly used as an educational site now, would need to go through additional scrutiny by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

Historic image of Ridgewood Reservoir. Image courtesy of NYH20.

According to Jonathan Turer from NYH2O, there were plans to build a new ball park on the reservoir site just a decade ago. The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation has denied this, but it was enough to compel local environmentalists and advocates to push for the site’s protected designation.

However, achieving the designation wasn’t that simple. The reservoir’s changing landscape made it difficult to prove that it was, in fact, a naturally occuring wetland.

“There’s seasonal wetlands that create a very special habitat, but you have to look at a specific way to find that evidence,” Turer says. “So, for instance, they’re looking at root structure of certain trees. Well, you’ll find certain trees in dry ecosystems and wetland ecosystems, but their roots do something different. They behave different when it’s periodically and regularly wet.”

Another important element of the equation was proving that there were threatened or endangered species living in the environment. This was easier to do and Turer gives special credit to the folks in the local birding community for their expertise and support.

Photo courtesy of NYH20.

“It really took, again sort of the overused phrase, it took a village. The village of Glendale and Ridgewood and all of these communities,” Turer says of the reservoir’s accomplished status. “It was sort of long-term partner-based community activism.”

Next, NYH2O and its community partners are hoping to work with local elected officials to develop more educational opportunities at the Ridgewood Reservoir and secure funding for it.

Cover photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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