Each day, more than 15 billion gallons of water are withdrawn from New York’s lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater. This water is a fundamental resource for life—both human and wild. That is why The Nature Conservancy has launched Water for Tomorrow, a program to reform the way fresh water is managed in New York State and help protect our water for New Yorkers in the future.
How ARE NEW YORKERS CURRENTLY USING WATER? HOW IS FRESH WATER BEING MANAGED?
New York State provides permits for businesses and people to withdraw water from our watershed. The state analyzes the future implications of each individual permit, but little has been done to measure the impacts that all of those water permits will have on our water supply down the road.
The Conservancy worked on the development of the Water Resource Management Act, which helps protect bodies of water and wildlife habitats by using science to guide water management practices. This water resource legislation, signed into law in 2011, provides a framework for making decisions about water withdrawal and its impact on nature. Under this legislation, key bodies of water like the Delaware River in the Catskills, which supplies water to 9 million people and the Great Lakes, which holds one-fifth of the world’s fresh water, are safeguarded.
What is The Nature Conservancy doing now?
We are working to empower decision makers and the public by providing the science and technology to make good decisions.
We are building a science-based tool to help local communities evaluate the impacts of water use in their regions. The Water for Tomorrow tool will reveal impacts of new water withdrawals on plants, animals and people, demonstrating the cumulative risks versus rewards.
To determine what water is being used for across New York State, we conducted a statewide analysis on over 1,500 major water users that are being tracked by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. A second analysis examined how much water pollution and scarcity might impact those major water users.
WHAT Did we learn?
When including New York City’s water consumption in our study, the largest portion of water in New York is used for drinking water. However, if New York City is excluded in the study, the largest quantity of water is used for thermoelectric. Currently, water used for agriculture is tracked on a voluntary basis, which means that the actual quantity used for agricultural purposes is much greater.
Currently, New York’s water resources are able to support its people, economy and nature, but if fresh water isn’t properly managed, even places like New York could be at risk. Many major water users across the state could suffer from poor water quality and water scarcity as commercial development and agricultural expansion increase.
What does all this mean for New Yorkers?
To make good choices requires understanding the full picture. State regulators need these tools, but our goal is to make them available to local community members too. By allowing users to visualize the current status of water resources and to test different scenarios of water and land use, users will be able to evaluate the resulting impacts and tradeoffs.
"With threats like climate change, the pressure on New York’s water resources will continue to grow," says Conservancy freshwater scientist George Schuler. "With your help, we can re-imagine the way New York manages its water resources."
Water for Tomorrow represents the first time that modern freshwater science, statistical and modeling tools and innovative freshwater policy are being brought together and made available to the public to empower local communities to play an active role in the conservation of their local resources.