New programming and plans for the reservoir 1

A number of projects are on the way for the Ridgewood Reservoir, including invasive species removal, building restoration and new educational programming.

Fresh on the heels of being added to the National Register of Historic Places earlier this year, the Ridgewood Reservoir will soon see some more positive attention headed its way, courtesy of NYC H2O.

The organization, which has been championing the protection and preservation of the reservoir for the last three years, is working on two projects centered around the site according to its founder, Matt Malina.

“There are two projects we’re working on” Malina told the Chronicle. “We’re working to remove invasive species which are harmful to the ecology because they take over.”

Ridding the reservoir of invasive plant species and planting new and replacement foliage, he added, is key in maintaining the stability of both the native breeds that live there and the site’s fragile ecosystem.

The Ridgewood Reservoir, which the city first broke ground on in 1856, features three basins and was used as a primary water supply for the city for more than 100 years.

It was decommissioned and drained in 1989, eventually returning to its previous state as a popular forest habitat for birds, numerous other animals and various endangered tree and plant species — one of the three basins is filled with water, as well.

The idyllic reservoir, which sits within Highland Park along the border of Queens and Brooklyn, has been a popular place for school field trips led by NYC H20.

Since the group started conducting free tours of the site in 2014, more than 4,000 students and 500 residents of the communities on either side of the reservoir have taken advantage of the programming.

These tours, Malina said, are all free and are a part of the organization’s goal to increase access and education about the area — which is home to over 100 species of birds, including several that classified either as threatened species or of special concern in the state.

The project is being done in conjunction with the Parks Department and is in the middle of being designed, which is expected to be completed by December.

According to a Parks spokesperson, work is expected to cost between $1 and $3 million, with funding coming from the Mayor’s Office.

The second project NYC H20 is working on is a partnership with the American Museum of Natural History to conduct research at the reservoir.

“By studying the reservoir, you’re getting a truer sense of the invertebrates and pond life that live there. It’s one of the few places of pure water with no chlorine or phospates,” Malina said, “so it’s important to study the reservoir because that water is more natural.”

The hope of the research project is to better understand the factors which influence the growth of cyanobacteria — pond algae — a field that is not that well understood according to Malina.

“A lot of plants grow bacteria and make the pond not accessible to people because it contains cyanide chemicals,” he said. “By studying different ponds, especially the ones that do get cyanobacteria, it’s a way to find out what some ponds are doing to prevent that kind of growth.”

Additionally, the Parks Department is working on a project to reconstruct the Ridgewood Reservoir Gate House 27 and Pump House 3 in Highland Park.

The two shuttered buildings were decommissioned when the reservoir was no longer needed as a water supply, and some park activists have called for the historic structures to be restored, at least aesthetically.

That project, according to the Parks Department, will be in the design phase for another eight months.

The Mayor’s Office is providing the funding, which is expected to cost between $5 and 10 million.

In the meantime, however, NYC H2O is still looking to get the reservoir designated as a wetland, the final layer of protection park advocates want.

Such a designation would prevent any future development at the site, something Malina said would be worth celebrating.

“We’re waiting on Basil Seggos, the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, to proclaim it a wetland,” he said. “It’s not done until he signs it.”

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