For Your Hidden Waters Bookshelf

When the authors of The Other Islands of New York City offered acknowledgements to other authors who touched on the same topic, their caption read, “No Author is an Island.” I offer the following “tributaries” for my book. The last time I shared my book list, they related to the city’s natural streams. On the current and former reservoirs within the city’s borders, the following books plumb the depths of New York’s urban water supply.

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Armed with a 4 x 5 monorail view camera without a flash, photographer Stanley Greenberg explores the city’s hidden infrastructure, including subway tunnels, power plants, bridge anchorages, and missile silos. His coverage of the city’s water works include visits to City Tunnel No. 3, the Central Park Reservoir gatehouse, High Bridge Water Tower, and Ridgewood Reservoir.

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Three years after releasing Invisible New York, Greenberg returned to the city’s aqueduct in 2003, with Waterworks: a Photographic Journey through New York’s Water System. The author follows the flow of the city’s water supply from its sources in the Catskill Mountains down to the distribution centers within the city’s limits.

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Architect and Cooper Union professor Kevin Bone and his students spent nine years probing the archives of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection with this rich volume of information on the history of the city’s water supply. The book was released in in 2006 and includes essays on the water supply, historical renderings, maps and photographs, leaving the reader with an encyclopedic knowledge and appreciation for the city’s greatest public work project.

The three books above touch on the same subject, the history of the city’s water supply. Savid Soll’s Empire of Water is the most recent, published in 2013 by Cornell University Press. The book looks at the development of the water supply through a politician lens, which in New York involves multiple levels of government, agencies, interest groups, with some degree of corruption along the way. Soll is an Assistant Professor in the Watershed Institute for Collaborative Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire.

Diane Galusha offers a perspective on the water supply coming from the source. She is the former editor of Catskill Mountain News. In her 2002 book Liquid Assets: A History of New York City’s Water System, she documents individuals who lost their homes in order to make way for the Croton, Catskill, and Delaware reservoirs. Galusha’s book tells the stories of workers who died building the tunnels and dams, giving their lives so that the great city would prosper.

Gerard Koeppel is a man of many interests. A former law student, cab driver, and CBS News reporter/producer, the prolific city history author contributed a few drops of knowledge to the water supply with his 2000 book Water for Gotham, which traces the city’s water needs to the New Amsterdam period. The wells dug by Dutch settlers, the use of Collect Pond, Aaron Burr’s Manhattan Company, they’re all in the book in chapters that predate the 1842 opening of the Croton Aqueduct. Koeppel’s most recent book, City on a Grid: How New York Became New York, was released in November 2015.

Additional Sources

The City’s Department of Environmental Protection maintains a lively social media presence that includes a Twitter feed full of photos and maps.

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The agency’s photographers are worth their salary, as the example above demonstrates with a shot of Jamaica Bay.

In Memoriam

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On the subject of the city’s water structure and urban trivia, the northernmost memorial within city limits that touches on the topic can be found at the bus turnaround loop at Van Cortlandt Park East and Katonah Avenue in the Woodlawn Heights neighborhood of the Bronx. The woods behind the memorial mark the border (I drew the black line) between New York City and Yonkers. In the photo above, we are looking north. The city that emerges behind the woods is Yonkers.

Beneath the memorial, the work in progress that is City Water Tunnel No. 3 channels water to the thirsty city. On the surface are custom designed manholes with the 23 names of workers killed since the project commenced in 1970.

As my day job involves researching monuments in the city’s park system, this one is as far north as I can go without leaving the city.

 

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