Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Kyle Kortright makes this connection here…

The news article entitled, “Department of Environmental Protection Institutes First of its Kind Modeling System for Reservoir Management” was reported by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection agency in their January 17, 2014 online newsletter (Bosch et al. 2014). The news relates to the WRE domain of hydrology and the specific issues of reservoir management and water quality. In summary, this news article reports on a new water management system developed by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to improve the quality of the water that the DEP sends to New York City and also how it helps to manage the water levels in all of the NYC water supply reservoirs. The bureau of water supply developed the operations support tool (OST) to more precisely predict future reservoir levels throughout the Catskill watersheds. The OST system is a very advanced computer modeling system, where future water supply levels and water quality predictions are based on several factors including; water quality measurements, turbidity measurements, current water demand, stream flows, snow pack measurements, weather forecasting, and several other factors (Bosch et al. 2014). The news article says that previous operations were simply based on current water demand, current reservoir levels, and historical records (Bosch et al. 2014). But the OST system gathers real-time data from hundreds of stream flow gauges, rainfall gauges, devices that measure the water content of snowpack, and from advanced water quality testing buoys in the reservoirs (Bosch et al. 2014). OST also allows the DEP to test different operational decisions to project how each would affect the water supply system in the months ahead. For instance, if DEP chose to divert 300 million gallons a day from one of its reservoir systems instead of 500 million gallons, OST can project how that decision and dozens of others will affect system storage, water quality, required releases, and more (Bosch et al. 2014). According to the article, “By incorporating the OST system we can continue to supply nearly half the state’s population with the highest-quality drinking water while respecting the needs and desires of those that live in and around the watersheds” (Bosch et al. 2014).

Based on my engineering education my informed opinion is the WRE facts in the news are accurate, as I show with the following research citations. According to an article published by the National Wildlife Federation (Pumphrey et al. 2012), the degree of snowpack has an affect on the reservoir levels in the Sierra Nevada’s throughout the entire summer months. This information is also relevant to the reservoirs in the Catskills; therefore, it is important to be able to predict these influxes of water into the reservoirs months in advance based on the water content of the snow packs. Research done by the USGS (Lumia et al. 2013) over a 10-year study on the supply and demand for water throughout New York State concludes that the supply and demand for water is highly inconsistent. This research supports the modeling of water supply and demand for current weather conditions such as the NYC DEP has done with the OST system. Based on critical thinking on this news story, I think the article has missed reporting important information on how accurately this system actually is. They also failed to say how accurate the snow-pack, water quality, forecasting, and other measurement devices are and how many of them are implemented throughout the watersheds.

Water resources engineering influences global, economic, environmental, and societal context areas because it is an interdisciplinary field that manages hydrologic and hydraulic systems at many scales to efficiently deliver services for many users. I have identified the broader WRE context area of how society in NYC and its water supply reservoirs are impacted by the OST system. These broader context areas are defined as followed: the societal context typically relates to human relationships, such as those between people and their government, as in the case with NYC residents and the DEP. Based on the article, the OST system will help the DEP provide a clean, safe, and reliable source of drinking water to the residents of NYC, thus benefiting society. I found that the relationship between the DEP and the residents of NYC has not always been a mutual relationship as reported by Freedman (Freedman et al. 2013), who described how previous water shortages in NYC have led to complaints by its residents. Freedman reports that while there have been reasonably wet seasons as of the last decade; in the 1970’s there were many problems with the water supply. He fears that there could again be a similar situation if New York experienced drought conditions and since the population has increased substantially since those times (Freedman et al. 2013). The cause-effect between a water shortage and the NYC society is as follows – with severe drought conditions, the prices for water could go up and limits on residential water meters may be applied. This would have a negative effect between society and the NYC DEP and it speaks to the importance of a system like OST.


Figure 1 – The Ashokan Reservoir dividing weir during normal reservoir levels in 2005, Source – NYC DEP

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Figure 2 – Ashokan Reservoir dividing weir during drought conditions in 1972,  Source – NYC DEP

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Figure 3 – Ashokan Reservoir dividing weir during a high turbidity event in 2008, Source – NYC DEP

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URL: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dep/html/press_releases/14002pr.shtml#.VLxdg8aYVUQ


Bosch, Adam. “Department of Environmental Protection Institutes First of Its Kind

Modeling System for Reservoir Management.” DEP Institutes First of Its Kind Modeling System for Reservoir Management. NYC DEP, 17 Jan. 2014. Web. 19 Jan. 2015.

Freedman, Andrew. “Wet Times Are Masking New York’s Real Drought Risk | Climate

Central.” Wet Times Are Masking New York’s Real Drought Risk | Climate Central. Climate Central, 28 Feb. 2013. Web. 19 Jan. 2015.

Lumia, Deborah. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Has Been Publishing Estimates Of

Water Use Every Five Years Since, 1950 In The “Estimated Use Of Water In The United States” Circular Series. In 1978, The Congress Expanded, The Water-Use Activities Of The USGS By Establishing The National Water-Use Information Program, and (Nwuip). The Water-Use Program In New York Is Part of The Nwuip And Is Based On A Cooperative. “New York Water Use Program and Data, 200-2010.” NEW YORK WATER-USE PROGRAM AND DATA, 2000 (n.d.): n. pag. USGS Science for a Changing World. USGS, 2013. Web. 19 Jan. 2015.

Pumphrey, Pete. “Declining Snow Pack Impacts Reservoir Levels.” National Wildlife

Federation 1st ser. 3.1 (2012): 14-15. Web. 19 Jan. 2015.