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The Water in Our Parks vs. the Water in Our Sinks

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Prospect Park Fallkilll Falls

Prospect Park's Fallkilll Falls

I recently came across a membership request postcard from the Prospect Park Alliance touting the restoration of their beautiful Fallkilll Falls. An interesting piece of trivia about Prospect Park is that its whole water system — lakes, waterfalls, beaches, islands — is entirely man-made. It’s a pretty fantastic feat of engineering (it was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux and its construction began in 1866), but it involves a dirty little secret.

The vast and impressive Prospect Park waterway, including its two pools, its stream through the Ravine, the 60-acre Lake and the Lullwater that connects the Ravine to the Lake, all starts with the waterfall at Fallkill Falls. Have you ever wondered where all the water in Prospect Park Comes from?

The answer may surprise you. Since the entire system is man-made, it isn’t a naturally occurring system boosted by rain and other features of Brooklyn’s natural habitat and climate. Instead, the water actually comes from a pipe that has a valve that can be opened or closed, much like the faucet of your kitchen sink.

Actually, it’s more like your kitchen sink than you realize: Fallkilll Falls and your kitchen sink actually get their water from the same source. The only difference is that New York City charges you for your water use but they don’t charge Prospect Park. That’s right, the cost of water in New York City has to be high enough to offset the cost of every single drop of water in Prospect Park (and many other parks in the city, for that matter) as well as its strain on NYC’s water infrastructure.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating cutting off all water to New York City’s parks. New York is a beautiful city and much of it has to do with the beauty of our parks. The water in Prospect Park used to be supplied by a well until it was determined that it would be cheaper to use free water than to maintain the well. But in the end, don’t we all benefit if we can enjoy the beauty of our parks without it driving up the cost of our water?

Author: Hershel

Hershel is a Water Management Engineer with Ashokan Water Services, where he's actively involved with conservation and building design issues. Prior to his Ashokan, he was with the City of New York. He is a former President of the New York chapter of the American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE) and is a member of AWWA, NYARM and BOMA. Hershel is an avid kayaker.

2 thoughts on “The Water in Our Parks vs. the Water in Our Sinks

  1. Hi. Thanks for looking at the Park’s water system. As the Park’s Press Director, let me make a few corrections/points: The switch from the well to city water wasn’t made because city water is cheaper/free. The old well took water out of the Brooklyn aquifer. Over time, with thousands of old Brooklyn homes, factories – and the Park – using well water, the ph balance of the water began to change to the point is was detrimental to the Park’s plants and trees. So too, the well was driven by a coal-fired plant that belched sooty smoke into the air. SO when the city’s waterline reached this part of Brooklyn, the decision was made to connect the park to the system. Moreover, the amount of water coming into the Park is regulated depending on rainfall and snowfall. So it’s not as if the water gushes without control. Most importantly, the city water used in the Park’s 60 acre watercourse pays for itself many times over when you consider how much the parks thousands of trees cool the area — 526 acres in central Brooklyn are green thanks to the water, rather than hot asphalt. So too, more than 200 bird species now live/visit the Park because of the watercourse and the plants it support (The Ntl Audubon society has designated the Park an important location on the Atlantic bird migration flyway).
    Finally the Park’s 526 acres (including the40-acre lake) catch thousands and thousands of gallons of rain water which otherwise would be added to the already stressed storm runoff sewer system. Mixed with the clean city water, the rain water supports a wonderful eco-system which includes the greatest concentration (per acre of water) of largemouth bass in NY State. Rather than wasting water, Prospect Park is a model of environmental conservation within a dense urban area.

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to comment on our blog. Let me start my response by saying how much I love Prospect Park. I work six blocks from the park and often bike through it during the summer to get to and from work. Prospect Park is a huge part of what makes Brooklyn and the rest of New York City as great as it and a lot of it has to do with what you said.
      Yes, Prospect Park is “a model of environmental conservation within a dense urban area,” but that doesn’t mean that we need to stop where we are and not look for ways to make it better. The fact is that using city water (for whatever reason) increases the price of water for New Yorkers. If the park can continue to provide all the advantages that you listed (plus more), and at the same time not drive up the price of water, that’s an even better “model of environmental conservation within a dense urban area.”

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