Wednesday, February 10, 2010


The Normanskill watershed is a near perfect example of how political boundaries divide and obscure natural systems. While it doesn’t appear to me these divisions are insurmountable, they do leave watershed concerns without an obvious policy structure or forum with which to focus attention. In some parts of the world, there are river systems shared by different countries. There are also rivers that serve as boundaries or move water from one country or state to another. The Normanskill does neither. The Normanskill is found entirely in New York State. As a major tributary, the watershed receives recognition as important to advocates and friends of the Hudson River. Not crossing national or state boundaries is an advantage to political management and a few less layers of government hopefully simplifies land-use planning and the watershed protector’s landscape. There are still global and bio-regional concerns which should be on the Normanskill watch list but these concerns reflect local problems and solutions with the harm and benefits to be derived locally as well. The political divisions of Counties, Towns, City and Villages are the divisions that largely remove the bio-regional view of this 170 square mile territory from the local population’s concerns and the local planning agency’s priorities. Which is not to say there are not concerned citizens, workers, and officials with a green environmental, open space, natural resource awareness, smart planning perspective; who recognize the importance of understanding and sustaining the whole living system they live in. I see two major divides of this river system. One is the Watervliet Reservoir. The watershed above the dam has interested parties concerned with water quality and by extension development, drainage, and pollution control. A second major biological divide is the estuary at the river’s confluence with the Hudson River near the Port of Albany. The landscape there is industrialized and like much of the Albany shore filled, dredged, and drowned to the point that its natural and human history is difficult to discern. Castle Island is no more, now you have a fill enlarged peninsula with obscured historical boundaries. From the Watervielt Reservoir downstream through Towns of Guilderland and Bethlehem the Normanskill and tributaries drain a mixed urban and suburbanized area. Maybe because my own property drains off onto this part of the watershed, I here find more permutations and interesting areas to still explore—from the recognized uniqueness of the Pine Bush Barrens; the availability of a surprising amount of green space due mostly to steep banked riversides, the Hunger Kill and the other small urban streams that move through the City of Albany and on to major malls and the campus of SUNY Albany. I see this portion of the river as our “European Watershed.” Common sense says over a hundred years of industrializations, denser human habitation, and major levels of pollution have made the health of this part of the river irretrievable. That is unless the cultural and societal change of the next hundred years decides differently. What is my proposed agenda for the Normanskill Watershed? First I would say to celebrate what we already have. A resource guide should be developed, eco-tourism encouraged, a sense of place, nature, seasonal activities; all to be encouraged. The publication NORMANSKILL can continue to be an anthology that networks and explores the depth of our bio-regional identity. Next would be preservation, eco-system enhancement, renewable “green”industries, increased food production, sustainable forestry, locally marketed locally produced products and crafts. No new ideas here but as a friend said recently, “We don’t need ideas. We need action.” I think there is a lot going on in these areas already. We need a catalog for access to what is available, perhaps included in the larger resource guide. On the political and planning level getting away from the “Big Pipe” mentality and seriously implementing water quality conscious decisions that involve different (and proven) technologies. Unless you live on a mountain peak, everyone is downstream from someone else. Alan Casline

foot bridge at French's Hollow

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