New protection for the Ridgewood Reservoir?

Space straddling Qns-Bklyn border may be added to NYS wetlands map

The fight to preserve the Ridgewood Reservoir has been a long one lasting years.

But the finish line is now clearly in sight.

In a Nov. 6 letter to Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Long Island City), state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said the reservoir is being considered for designation as a wetlands area — such locations are protected from being developed or otherwise encroached upon.

DEC policy maintains that freshwater wetlands equal to or greater than 12.4 acres are eligible for the designation. The three basins that make up the reservoir are smaller than that, but Seggos said they qualify for an exception to the rule.

“Wetlands smaller than this size, such as those located on the Ridgewood Reservoir site, may be added to the official wetland maps via a map amendment, provided they are determined by DEC to be of unusual local importance,” Seggos wrote. “The wetlands within the Ridgewood Reservoir qualify as such.”

But for the designation to be awarded, the commissioner said a public comment period and a public hearing must be held as part of the amendment process. The DEC said it is in the process of finalizing a report on the site and the hearing will be scheduled shortly after.

Nolan called the DEC’s decision “wonderful news” in a statement last week.

“The reservoir is truly a unique site which consists of natural and largely undisturbed habitats for many species of animals,” the lawmaker said. “I welcome the state’s strong interest in preserving this site in its entirety for future generations.”

Ground was first broken by the city on the three-basin reservoir, which sits within Highland Park on the Queens-Brooklyn border, in 1856. It was then used as one of the five boroughs’ primary water supplies until 1959, after which time it was used as a water source only during droughts.

It was decommissioned and drained in 1989, eventually returning to its previous state as a popular forest habitat for birds and other wildlife with water filling the second basin.

Specifically, about 100 species of birds nest there, including several that are classified as threatened species or of special concern in New York.

The third basin is also full of endangered and threatened plant and tree species.

Three years ago, the state proposed a flood mitigation project that would involve breaching the berms seperating the basins and building roadways between them. But a city study later determined the area posed no flood risk and the plan was scuttled.

While Nolan has called for a wetlands designation in the time since, other park advocates have set their sights higher — the state and national registers of historic places.

And in a Nov. 7 letter to advocacy group NYC H2O, state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Deputy Commissioner R. Daniel Mackay said the state Board for Historic Preservation will consider nominating the Ridgewood Reservoir to both registers at its Dec. 7 meeting.