Catskill Mountains TU Chapter Wins Esopus River Lawsuit Against New York City
Decision will improve water quality in the wild trout fishery
2/24/2003 -- Arlington, VA -- A U.S. Federal District Court Judge has ordered New York City to pay a $5.7 million fine and obtain a Clean Water Act discharge permit as a result of a lawsuit brought under the Clean Water Act by TU's Catskill Mountains Chapter and other conservation groups. The lawsuit, filed in 2000, centered around discharges into the Esopus River from the Shandaken tunnel, part of New York City's water supply system. The tunnel transports water 18 miles from Schoharie Reservoir to the Esopus River, which in turn runs into Ashokan Reservoir. The water is then transported to New York City through a series of aquaducts. Since 1996, water discharged from the tunnel has been extremely murky and cloudy due to sedimentation in the Schoharie Reservoir. In addition to compromising water quality in the Esopus, the turbidity has made fishing and wading difficult for a significant part of the year. The chapter decided to join in the lawsuit after protracted negotiations failed to make progress toward a solution. "We went to meetings for over a year - it was as though we were on a treadmill - the stream was dying and nothing was being done," said Bert Darrow, permanent director of the Catskill Mountains Chapter of Trout Unlimited and one of the primary motivators behind the lawsuit.
At one time, more than 90 percent of the trout population in the Esopus were wild rainbows. Starting in 1996, when sediment filled discharges began affecting water quality, the trout began to decline as did populations of the river's invertebrates.
At trial, TU's New York Council Chair Ron Urban and other anglers testified about the extent of the turbidity and its effects on the river and on fishing. The trial judge ordered New York City to pay a fine of $5,749,000 and to obtain a point source discharge permit from the state within 18 months. The fine will be paid to the U.S. Treasury.
"Our interest wasn't necessarily in penalizing the city…it was to clean up the stream," said Darrow.
Joining TU in the lawsuit were Theordore Gordon Flyfishers, Inc., Catskill-Deleware Natural Water Alliance, Inc. Federated Sportsmen's Clubs of Ulster County, Inc., and Riverkeeper, Inc. The case was handled by the Environmental Litigation Clinic at Pace Law School.
A more detailed description of the Esopus and the problems presented by the Shandaken tunnel can be found in the Spring 2002 issue of Trout Magazine.
For more information: Bert Darrow: 845-658-9784; Leon Szeptycki: 434-984-4919