Watershed protection to secure ecosystem services: The New York city watershed governance arrangement

Jeffrey W. Hanlon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


In 1997, New York City and a group of smaller municipalities in the Catskills region of New York came to agree upon a novel and complex means of protecting water quality in the City's upstate reservoirs. The Memorandum of Agreement they authored tied previously uncooperating governments to a new shared goal: preserve the ecological integrity of the Catskill and Delaware watersheds so that the City could avoid chemically filtering its municipal water. The agreement represents a policy experiment in reaction to a stark choice. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's 1986 Surface Water Treatment Rule mandated that the City either filter its surface water supply or maintain a watershed control program to ensure the long-term protection of water quality in its source watersheds. The City decided to pursue a watershed control program in lieu of the more expensive filtration. The choice has led to a governing arrangement that has theoretical implications for how to simultaneously secure ecosystem services, promote rural livelihoods, and produce the critical public good of potable water to millions of people. The policy solution displays how cooperative institutions may provide low-cost and low-tech solutions to environmental dilemmas to protect ecosystem services. However, over time, governing entities have faced challenges that raise questions about the durability of the arrangement. This case study explores those challenges to better elucidate the possibilities and pitfalls of watershed governance to secure ecosystem services.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalCase Studies in the Environment
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 31 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • Education
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment


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