What is that view?

It’s not a lake. It’s not a river. It’s not a sea. What is it?

It’s called the Pepacton and it’s a reservoir. Even more, it belongs to a chain of reservoirs that provides drink water for NYC residents. The Pepacton Reservoir is part of the Catskill and Delaware watershed system, which contains six reservoirs that provide 90% of NYC’s daily water needs. This water supply system is one of the largest surface water storage and supply systems in the world. The system reliably delivers more than 1.1 billion gallons of safe drinking water daily to nine million people – this represents nearly half the population of all New York State.

In the US, NYC is one of five metropolitan areas still supplying unfiltered surface water to its City residents. The other four are Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland. Although many tourists don’t feel at ease drinking tap water in large metropolitan areas, I have always found NYC’s tap water very drinkable. In Dutch we say lekker, and lekker it is! Have you ever wondered why New York’s bagels and pizza crust taste so delicious? Well, it’s because of the water! Thanks in part to the geology of the Catskill Mountains, which have very little limestone rock, the city’s water contains low levels of bitter-tasting calcium. An article in the NYTimes from January 2018 claims that NYC tap water has even been called “the champagne of drinking water”.

NYC is big, and so is the Pepacton. It is NYC’s biggest reservoir by volume, 15 miles (24 km) long and 1.1 miles (1,7 km) across at its widest point. The reservoir is over 160 feet (49 meters) deep at maximum and has over 50 miles (80 km) of shoreline length.

Aerial shot of the Pepacton Reservoir.

For the romantic souls amongst us: Pepacton is a Lenape native American term for “Marriage of the waters”. Some of the other reservoirs were also named by the Lenape and Mohawk. Ashokan is a Lenape term for “A good place to fish”, and the Mohawk referred to the Schoharie Reservoir calling it “Floating driftwood”. The Rondout Reservoir was named by the Dutch. The Dutch word reduit, which amongst Dutch speakers is probably only known by historians who received a PhD in ancient wall fortification, refers to a fortified structure into which to retreat when the outer walls are breached. Just FYI. The history behind the reservoirs is not always as romantic as some of their names might suggest. Cannonsville and, oh, the irony, Neversink were named after hamlets that got flooded during their construction (Neversink, in an attempt to do some justice to its name, got relocated and rebuilt afterward). Most of all this happened in the first half of the last century. Thousands of residents were forced to vacate their homes and around twenty communities got flooded and erased from the map. One of them is a hamlet called Bittersweet. I can’t speak for them, but I guess that must be the feeling for some older locals when they look at the beauty of these reservoirs nowadays.

Interested to read more? Check out the following sources:

A Billion-Dollar Investment in New York’s Water, New York Times, Jan.18, 2018

How New York Gets its Water, New York Times, March 30, 2016

History of the NYC Water Supply, Catskill Watershed Corporation

Croton & Catskill/Delaware Watersheds, Watershed Agricultural Council

Pepacton Reservoir, April 2020. Only non-motorized boating is allowed on the reservoir, but you must first steam clean your vessel and get an access permit from the NYC Department of Environmental Protection.

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