The Croton Reservoir system is part of New York City’s water supply network. It was developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries as an essential resource for the growing city. The system is named after the Croton River, a major tributary of the Hudson River.
The system is comprised of several reservoirs and controlled lakes, including the Croton Falls Reservoir, West Branch Reservoir, and the New Croton Reservoir, among others. In total, the Croton system spans Westchester, Putnam, and Dutchess counties in New York State, with the watershed covering an area of about 375 square miles.
Before the establishment of the Croton Reservoir system, the rapidly expanding population of New York City faced a serious issue with water supply. Early on, the city’s water was obtained from wells and cisterns, which were often contaminated and insufficient to meet the needs of the growing population.
In the early 19th century, the Manhattan Company (now JPMorgan Chase & Co.) was chartered to supply clean water to the city. However, the company’s efforts were inadequate; they drew water from the polluted Collect Pond in lower Manhattan and distributed it through wooden pipes. The Manhattan Company was more interested in its banking operations and didn’t invest enough in water supply infrastructure.
Water quality was a serious issue, contributing to outbreaks of disease, including a severe cholera outbreak in 1832. Fires were also a constant risk in the densely packed city, and there was often not enough water to fight them effectively. The most notable of these was the Great Fire of 1835, which destroyed a significant portion of lower Manhattan.
These challenges led to the decision to build the Croton Reservoir system. The city needed a reliable source of clean water to support its growing population and to help prevent disease and fire. The completion of the Croton Aqueduct in 1842 was a major step forward in urban public health and infrastructure. It supplied New York City with fresh water from the Croton River, well north of the city, and remained the city’s primary water source until the development of the Catskill and Delaware systems in the 20th century.
The original Old Croton Aqueduct was a major feat of engineering at the time. It transported water some 41 miles from the Old Croton Reservoir to a receiving reservoir located in what is now Central Park in Manhattan.
In response to the majesty of the structure, Charles Dickens wrote in his American Notes (1842): “The Aqueduct which brings the water from Croton River, a distance of thirty-three miles, to the city of New York, is a stupendous work. The water is conveyed across the river by a bridge of iron and wood, the latter (which is about a mile in length) being supported on stone piers. The water, thus supplied from a pure and wholesome source, is made to go through every part of the city.”
In response to the city’s rapid growth, a New Croton Aqueduct, with much larger capacity, was commissioned and completed in 1890. The Old Croton Aqueduct was decommissioned but part of it still stands today as a historic site. The New Croton Aqueduct is still in operation, although since the completion of the Catskill and Delaware systems in the 20th century, the Croton system now supplies a relatively small portion of New York City’s water.
One of the most recognizable structures related to the Croton system is the New Croton Dam. Completed in 1906, it is a large masonry dam and it creates the New Croton Reservoir. The dam’s construction represented a significant advance in civil engineering at the time, and today it’s a notable landmark.
The New Croton Dam is located in Westchester County, New York. Its construction was an impressive feat of engineering during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The decision to construct a new dam arose from the need to meet the increasing demand for water in New York City due to its rapid growth. The original Croton Dam (later called the Old Croton Dam) and the aqueduct built in the 1840s were not able to keep pace with the city’s water needs.
The New Croton Dam was constructed between 1892 and 1906. It replaced the Old Croton Dam, which was located downstream and had been constructed in the 1840s. The new dam was designed by Alphonse Fteley, a chief engineer of the New York City Department of Public Works.
The dam is a masonry dam, meaning it was constructed from individual blocks of granite. The total length of the dam, including its spillway, is 2,188 feet, and it is about 297 feet high. The dam’s base is approximately 200 feet thick. Its design allows it to hold back about 19 billion gallons of water.
The dam features a unique “spillway,” a passage for surplus water to flow over when the reservoir is full. The spillway of the New Croton Dam is often referred to as “the Cascades,” and when the reservoir is at capacity, the water spills over it in a dramatic waterfall, which has made the dam a popular sightseeing spot.
Once completed, the dam and the reservoir it created significantly expanded the capacity of the Croton System, helping ensure a stable water supply for New York City. The dam is still operational today and contributes to the water supply system of New York City, though a much smaller portion than in the past due to the development of other reservoir systems (Catskill and Delaware).
The New Croton Reservoir System supplies about 10% of New York City’s drinking water on a daily basis. The system has a capacity of 19 billion gallons of water. The New Croton Reservoir System is one of three major water supply systems that serve New York City. The other two systems are the Catskill system and the Delaware system. The Catskill system supplies up to 40% of the city’s daily water needs, while the Delaware system provides 50% of the city’s daily water needs.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDITS: Bestbudbrian; Historic American Buildings Survey; U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.