A delegation of forest supervisors from India is in New York this week to learn about the Catskills watershed. It’s part of a U.S.-India exchange program to help develop solutions for sustainable forest land use in India.
Dr. Gina Green is with environmental science firm Tetra Tech. She helps implement U.S. Agency for International Development, or U.S. AID, projects and has been accompanying the Indian delegation during the visit, from New York City to reservoirs in the Catskills.
“It’s one of the most important and best managed watersheds of forest areas for water protection,” says Green. “And where India right now is in certain areas are facing crises is water.”
The U.S. –India Exchange is part of the U.S. AID Forest-PLUS, or Partnership for Land Use Science Program that began in 2012. Forest PLUS aims to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, mitigate climate change, protect biodiversity and more. Green says it’s the first time an Indian forest delegation is visiting the Catskills to understand watershed and water management.
“And it will cost society a lot more if you don’t start to protect your watersheds, don’t start to protect your water sources in the long term,” Green says. “And I just think the Catskills has been very insightful and thoughtful about this. And I think that’s an incredible story to tell not just here within the U.S. but on a global basis.”
Adam Bosch is spokesman for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, which manages the city’s water supply. It serves more than 9.5 million New Yorkers, 8.5 million of whom are in the city. The water supply comes from three watersheds, including the Catskills. Bosch says the delegation has been meeting with DEP officials.
“When we talk to the folks from India this week, one of the things that we’re hoping to share with them is that we’ve been able to work with a number of local partners in the Catskills on all sorts of programs, from forestry to stream management to wastewater to farm programs, to make sure that the quality of New York City’s drinking water is protected, that the lands around them are protected,” Bosch says. “And, hopefully, they’ll take some inspiration or some ideas back to India that they can replicate in some way to have the same effect on their drinking water supply.”
Green also anticipates that Indian forestry officials will adapt what they learn here to improve forest management in their country.
“Right now, the forest departments are not getting paid to manage their watersheds, their forest areas for water production. So that’s the beginning, that’s a start,” Green says. “So if we can say, here in the Catskills the incentives, the tax incentives, the property incentives to the private sector is this, the farming is done this way, with organic farming, that, to me, at the end of the day, is how this can then be applied in India.”
Under the U.S. AID program, Green says Indian delegations have visited elsewhere in the U.S., including in the Adirondacks this past November to learn about ecosystems and climate change research. The DEP’s Bosch says representatives from other countries have visited his agency.
“In the past few years, we’ve had visitors from Columbia, from Chile, from Singapore and from other countries,” says Bosch. “And all of them are interested in this idea of protecting the quality of drinking water at its source rather than allowing that drinking water to become polluted in some way, shape or form and then having to filter out that pollution at the end of a long pipe.”
Diane Galusha is education coordinator with the Catskill Watershed Corporation, which runs environmental programs in the Catskills and Delaware watersheds, or West of Hudson watershed. She, too, says there is global interest in the watershed.
“Oh we’ve had folks from Uzbekistan, this year even. Korea, Tibet, Ireland, France, people from all over the world, Mexico,” says Galusha.
She talks about what CWC will share with the Indian delegation.
“They want to know how is it that communities and people and businesses in a living watershed can coexist with programs to keep water quality safe and healthy,” Galusha says.
The history and relationship between New York City and the watershed communities is long and has, at times, been difficult and contentious. And it’s a history Galusha says the CWC will share.
“Certainly we will be telling them about the impact that New York City’s water system has had on this region and on communities and on its history, how it really has reshaped the landscape as well as the chemistry of communities and neighborhoods and the economy, that’s a big one,” Galusha says.
Tonight at 6:30, the delegation of senior level forest supervisors from India’s state agencies will deliver a presentation called “Forest Management and Water for Drinking, Agriculture and Hydro-Power in India.” The talk is at the Catskill Interpretative Center in Mount Tremper.