$43 Million awarded by NYC DEP to secure Conservation Easements in the NYC Watershed


Fund will ensure protection of working landscapes and water quality for decades to come

Walton, NY- The Watershed Agricultural Council (WAC) and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today announced the creation of a $43 million endowment fund for WAC that will be used to safeguard agriculture and forestry easements for decades to come. The endowment, which was funded by New York City, will be used by WAC to steward easement lands that are held by the council now and in the future. WAC currently holds easements across 25,845 acres of farm and forestland. These easements aim to conserve working lands while also protecting the Watersheds that surround New York City’s water supply reservoirs in the Catskills.

Money from the fund will be used to perform aerial and ground monitoring of the easements, and to safeguard their boundaries against encroachments. The stewardship fund will also be used to protect the water quality of the New York City Watersheds, and to oversee any farm, timber or other projects on these working landscapes to ensure all work is performed in a manner that is protecting water quality.

“The Council has had a significant impact on the environment and the regional economy for over 20 years,” said Craig Cashman, WAC Executive Director. “Each of our service areas – agriculture, forestry, conservation easements, and economic viability – are a blend of our mission with the intent to strike a balance between water quality and economic viability.”

“The preservation of agricultural land is a nationwide movement for all the obvious reasons,” said Fred Huneke, WAC Director and former Chairman, who has been with the organization since its inception and recognizes the importance of protecting working lands. “Our partnership with New York City serves the dual purpose of preserving water quality and the agricultural industry through a variety of programing including easements on agricultural lands. The addition of this stewardship funding secures WAC’s future as a land trust, protects water quality, and also maintains the working landscapes and economic viability of this place we call the Watershed.”

“Since it was formed by local farmers more than two decades ago, the Watershed Agricultural Council has improved infrastructure at hundreds of farms, preserved thousands of acres of working landscape in the Catskills, and its work has measurably improved water quality in New York City’s reservoirs,” DEP Acting Commissioner Vincent Sapienza said. “The key now is to preserve these improvements for many generations to come, which is why the City has created this stewardship fund within WAC. I want to thank the board of directors and all the staff members at WAC, and the farmers who’ve voluntarily implemented programs on their lands to help protect the water supply for 9.5 million New Yorkers.”

Richard Giles of Lucky Dog Farm in Hamden, NY, is a prime example of conservation easements improving a farm’s viability. “It makes it possible for this farm to remain a part of the working landscape beyond my time here. My children and my farm crew intend to continue the operation of our organic vegetable farm, and the stewardship endowment ensures that the land will be operated to conserve the soil and the clean drinking water into the future, and that unwise development of this piece of the earth will be prevented.”

“The Land Trust Alliance commends the partnership between the Watershed Agricultural Council and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection,” said Andrew Bowman, President of the Land Trust Alliance (LTA). “This funding announcement helps ensure that land protection efforts in the New York City Watershed stand the test of time. As a member of the LTA, WAC is setting the standard for easement stewardship and effective, permanent protection of working farms and forests, wildlife habitat and critical watershed lands that provide clean drinking water to more than 9.5 million New Yorkers every day. To protect substantial public and private investments in strategic land conservation, the Alliance encourages organizations like WAC to develop the stewardship capacity and financial resources to further safeguard such interests in perpetuity. We applaud this landmark investment and hope it serves as a model for municipalities and land trusts across the country as they collaborate to protect significant natural resources for generations to come.”

“New York is home to some of the most threatened farmland in America,” said David Haight, New York State Director for American Farmland Trust. “The equivalent of 5,000 farms have been paved over across the state since the 1980s. The partnership that the City of New York and the Watershed Agricultural Council have forged will protect farmland so that New Yorkers will enjoy clean drinking water, local food and a stronger economy for generations to come.”

According to Ryan Naatz, WAC’s Easement Program Director; since its inception in 2001,WAC’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program has protected 22% (25,845 acres) of the 288 currently eligible farms in the Catskill/Delaware basins of the New York City Watershed. This accomplishment marks one of the largest private land protection efforts in New York State. Conservation easements protect land for future generations by restricting or conditioning certain rights or uses necessary to protect specific conservation values, such as water quality, while allowing for the retention of other rights and uses by a landowner (including the right to sell or transfer). As such, a conservation easement restricted property can continue to provide economic benefits for an area in the form of jobs, economic activity and property taxes. WAC’s conservation easements are designed to allow for continued intensive commercial activities such as agriculture, timber harvests and bluestone quarrying so long as those activities have a conservation plan approved by WAC.

For more information on WAC’s Conservation Easement Program, please call (607) 865-7790, or visit the Council’s website: nycwatershed.org.