The Town of Southeast has developed a Stormwater Management Program (SWMP) to reduce the amount of pollutants entering water bodies within the Town during rain events. The Town contributes stormwater flow to six (6) waterbodies that have been listed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation as impaired. Five (5) of those waterbodies are part of the New York City Watershed, known as the Croton Watershed system. This page provides important information on stormwater, the Croton Watershed, the steps that Southeast is taking to ensure waterbody protection, and ways that you can help on a daily basis.
Stormwater is water from rain or melting snow that does not soak into the ground but runs off into waterways. It flows from rooftops, over paved areas and bare soil, and through sloped lawns while picking up a variety of materials on its way. As it flows, stormwater runoff collects and transports soil, animal waste, salt, pesticides, fertilizers, oil and grease, debris and other potential pollutants. The quality of runoff is affected by a variety of factors and depends on the season, local meteorology, geography and upon land uses that lie in the path of the flow.
What is the Problem?
Stormwater gathers sediment and a variety of pollutants that are mobilized during runoff events. Such runoff degrades our lakes, rivers, wetland and other waterways runoff. Transported soil clouds waterways and can interfere with the habitat of fish and plant life.
Nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen can promote the overgrowth of algae, deplete oxygen in waterways and be harmful to other aquatic life. Toxic chemicals from automobiles, sediment from construction activities and careless application of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers threaten the health of the receiving waterway and can kill fish and other aquatic life. Bacteria from animal wastes or failing septic systems can make local lakes unsafe for wading and swimming and the New York City reservoirs unsafe as a source for drinking water. According to an inventory conducted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), half of the impaired waterways in the United States are affected by urban/suburban and construction sources of stormwater runoff. In the New York City watershed here in Southeast, each of the five reservoir basins is currently impaired with respect to elevated phosphorus levels.
Stormwater management practices are used to delay, collect, store, treat, or infiltrate stormwater runoff. While specific design objectives for stormwater management practices are often unique to each subwatershed, the general goals for stormwater management practices usually include the following:
The Croton Watershed and Southeast
Natural resources help to define Southeast’s community character. Residents of Southeast can identify with the rolling topography, the streams and reservoirs, and the broad vistas available from many local roads. The quality of this landscape is important to the residents of Southeast. The quality of the landscape is also important to the consumers of New York City’s drinking water as well as the consumers of local groundwater.
Southeast’s surface water, although a part of its natural beauty, is largely a product of human effort. In the late 1800s, New York City’s Croton Watershed System was created through the damming of the East Branch and Middle Branch of the Croton River. Southeast has five of the watershed reservoirs in its borders: part of the Croton Falls, and all of the Middle Branch, Bog Brook, East Branch and Diverting Reservoirs. In addition, the Town is laced with streams, creeks, small ponds and the large natural waterbodies of Peach Lake, Haines Pond, Brewster Pond, and Lake Tonetta. Protection of surface water is important to Town residents because clean surface water enhances property values and aesthetic values, provides recreation opportunities, and protects the drinking water supply.
New York City Department of Environmental Protection monitors the quality of water within its reservoirs and institutes regulations and policies to protect the integrity of this drinking water resource. In 1990, a far-reaching surface water protection program began when New York City moved to protect its watershed. The Watershed Rules and Regulations were developed to protect the water quality from any additional degradation resulting from wastewater discharges into surface and groundwater, land use practices that result in non-point source runoff, and improper use of storage of materials such as pesticides, de-icing salt and solid waste.
The stress of development on lakes has led to increased phosphorus levels and accelerated eutrophication of Lake Tonetta, Peach Lake, and the New York City reservoirs. (Eutrophication is a process by which a buildup of organic material, sediments, and nutrients results in chemical and physical changes within a waterbody).
Eutrophication of waterbodies is generally driven by the quantity of phosphorus entering the water. Too much phosphorus creates algae, weeds, slimes and other organic by-products that degrade water quality. New York City considers any “non-source water” reservoir containing 20 milligrams per liter or more of phosphorus to be “Phosphorus-limited.” Of the five reservoirs located within Southeast, all are currently designated as phosphorus-limited at this time. In addition, the Muscoot Reservoir, the watershed for which extends into Southeast, is phosphorus-limited.
What is Being Done?
Significant improvements have been achieved in controlling pollutants that are discharged from sewage and wastewater treatment plants. Stormwater management, especially in urban areas, is becoming a necessary step in seeking further reductions in pollution in our waterways and presents new challenges.
Stormwater runoff normally cannot be treated in the same way as accomplished by sewage and wastewater treatment plants. More often than not, end-of-pipe controls are not the best answer for removing pollutants from stormwater runoff. Pollutants in runoff enter our waterways in numerous ways and the best way of control is usually at the pollutant's source. Sometimes, significant improvements can be made by employing best management practices, or "BMPs". Proper storage of chemicals, good housekeeping and just plain paying attention to what's happening during runoff events can lead to relatively inexpensive ways of preventing pollutants from getting into the runoff in the first place and then our waterways.
Effective stormwater management is often achieved from a management systems approach, as opposed to an approach that focuses on individual practices. Once pollutants are present in a water body, or after a receiving water body's physical structure and habitat have been altered, it is much more difficult and expensive to restore it to an undegraded condition. Therefore, the use of a management system that relies first on preventing degradation of receiving waters is recommended.
Phase II Stormwater Regulations require towns, like Southeast, to implement programs and practices to control polluted stormwater runoff. Part of the requirements of the Phase II General Permit, issued by NYSDEC, is to implement six minimum control measures to prevent stormwater impacts on water quality. BMPs under each of the minimum measures focus on the prevention of pollutants from ever getting into stormwater. Similarly, some of the practices under the post-construction runoff control minimum measure address site design issues that can result in pollution prevention.
The menu of BMPs is based on Phase II's six minimum control measures. Click on the minimum control measure below to see how the Town of Southeast has taken action on the Phase II requirements.
What can you do to prevent stormwater pollution?
Activities that seem harmless or insignificant on a small scale can have an enormous cumulative impact on our waterways. Below are some ways you can help!
Children can participate too! The EPA has a kids page with fun activities:
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