Key to Civilization

They say a number of civilizations that have faded into the history books have done so because of one thing, water.
After attempting to follow the source of the New York City water supply, I’m convinced that our country will do anything to keep its water flowing. New York City has bought up thousands of acres of land in the Catskills to protect the source of the city’s drinking water. Getting photographs of these giant reservoirs and all that goes into them has proven tricky because security it tight. I tried hard to get into a sewage treatment plant today but was lectured about the security precautions after September 11th. I understand the concern to protect water, but poop?
So with no good way of photographing the reservoirs, I climbed Wittenburg Mountain and made this image of Ashokan Reservoir. At full capacity the reservoir can hold approximately 122.9 billion gallons of water. According to a sign I read at another reservoir, NYC uses more than 1 billion gallons of water a day.

Posted August 12th, 2008 in Uncategorized.


  1. Annah:

    It looks like it was worth the climb. This picture reminds me of an Ansel Adams shot. Makes me wonder when all that water will disappear…

  2. Gary:

    Yea- New York diverts about 700 billion gallons from the Delaware River basin – this has placed tremendous stress on those states south of the city (uh, in Delaware? Ya – )

    Not only does this deprive folks in drought stricken areas of water, it has also lead to wide spread death of cold-water-loving trout. As their rivers and streams lose water, they become shallower. Shallow waters are warm waters. Trout have a narrow range of temperature in which they thrive.

    NYC is well within its rights under a mid 1950s decision by the supreme court. Still – one wonders how much more water can be diverted.

    As for the poop-water, methinks the concern is for the treated water which emerges from the STP, and returns to the waterways, rather than the pre-treatment water.

    “we’ll do anything to keep our water flowing”? Indeed. If you haven’t seen the film Chinatown, you need to. A 70s classic, and based on truth. Los Angeles was a desert. The emerging metropolis needed water. So they stole it from the Colorado.

    Still do.

    No only have civilizations faded, but all of humanity – numbering in the tens of thousands perhaps – moved north out of Africa due to lack of water, leading to our habitation of Europe and Asia.

    Where will we go next?

  3. lau:

    ‘Luckily’ we still have plenty in The Netherlands. And more to come if the climate change is not stopped, and one half of our country is in serious danger to disappear! Not only by sealevel rising, but merely by the disappearance of the snow and glaciers in the alpes, which leads to bigger rivers and huge inland lakes because the fresh water can no longer run into the ocean. Our country’s weapon is a lion fighting the waters…

    A few short comments: we are only alive because we have floating fresh water..Just read a chapter in Richard Dawkins’ book about the origin of life. Extremely interesting.

    I do not understand American city planning or the dream to ‘go west’. Cities like Phoenix and Vegas should never have been build. Lots of fresh water is wasted because we/you all want green lawns, in a desert! Why?

    Like Lake Chad and Lake Aral in Russia are disappearing quickly, so will the Colorado river be no longer running towards the ocean. The only use will be to wet someone’s lawn.

  4. Peter Hoffman:

    I’ve always wondered about the people trying to put lawns in the desert too. It’s a fantastic waste of resources. Move, or embrace the surrounding habitat.

  5. Jim Korpi:

    It’s not just lawns in the desert. It’s lawns EVERYWHERE. How often do most people use their lawns? Maybe a couple times a year. How often do they have someone use a gas-powered lawn mower to cut the grass?
    I grew more tomatoes in a ten-foot by three-foot piece of my front lawn than the two of us could eat, so we gave some to our neighbors, coworkers… It’s amazing how much can grow from the soil if you just let it.
    We’ve just become so entrenched in a lifestyle of convenience and complacency. One answer to the world’s problems is a return to a bit of manual labor for every human being that is capable and not just for those who will work for pennies.

  6. Lau:

    You know how astonished I am about your lawns every time i fly out of the USA and see the country from the sky. It is indeed a waste of land that lots of times is only used to store non-used plastic swimming pools, and we all complain about rising food prices and shortage of land to grow stuff for food and our cars. There is no need. If we would just get rid of lawns and golf courses; am sure we could supply many more than we do presently. Might sound hypocritical but lawns in a wet climate are a little easier to accept.

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