Manhattan Country School students are in a unique situation as both consumers of drinking water that originates in the Catskill Mountains and as stewards of the NYC watershed while at the MCS Farm. This year, the 8th grade class will be researching, discussing and debating the complexities of the watershed. On their recent fall Farm trip, they took a deep dive into the history of the need for water over time in the five boroughs.
The students discovered that several towns, filled with people, businesses, schools and places of worship were forced to move due to the flooding of their river valleys. They learned that through the process of eminent domain, the residents of these villages had no voice in the decision of the city to the south. The students were quick to realize that while residents of the five boroughs enjoy clean, unfiltered drinking water, it comes at a cost. Looking at the issues surrounding the watershed through the lens of the three E’s - Environment, Economics and Equity - the class was quick to understand how complex this system is. Playing in the stream that flows through the Farm's property and knowing it is the same water that will eventually flow from their sinks is a lesson learned in the 7-8’s. Now, they are learning the science, economics, social implications and political maneuverings that often go unnoticed.
Because the water system is unfiltered, it needs to be treated with chlorine and run through ultraviolet lights to kill bacteria. To avoid filtration, NYC has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the Catskills to protect the water at its source. They have placed restrictions on land development and agricultural practices and purchased tens of thousands of acres of land. These land purchases have a direct effect on local residents as the supply of buildable land has decreased and the price of available land has increased.
The political effects reach NYC residents as many buildings still store water in rooftop tanks. The class became outraged to learn that many underserved neighborhoods are forced to use water from tanks that are in disrepair and polluted. Government officials who are charged with overseeing the safety of this water have been negligent.
The eighth graders will continue to study this topic in their Environmental class throughout the school year.