OSI acquires 83 acres surrounding Brown’s Pond

By Alberto Gilman
Posted 6/19/24

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), the Open Space Institute (OSI) and the Orange County Water Authority (OCWA) announced June 10 the permanent protection of 83 …

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OSI acquires 83 acres surrounding Brown’s Pond


The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), the Open Space Institute (OSI) and the Orange County Water Authority (OCWA) announced June 10 the permanent protection of 83 acres of land to safeguard a critical water source for more than 29,000 residents in the City of Newburgh. The acquired land is within the Browns Pond Watershed.

The property, located 100 feet from Browns Pond, was identified as a top priority for protection and has been a conservation goal for the county, the city and other conservation organizations and stakeholders.

Back in 2014, the discovery of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in Washington Lake led the city to seek other available drinking water sources since its primary source was now contaminated. Since 2016, Browns Bond and the Catskill Aqueduct have served as available drinking water sources.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) defines PFAS as “man-made chemicals that have been widely used in industry and consumer products since the 1940s and remain in the environment for a long time.” Exposure to these substances can lead to health complications later on.

Over the past 40 years, much of the land within the Browns Pond watershed has been residentially developed and the untouched land was under high development pressure. The parcel is a mix of meadows, mature woods, and wetlands with portions of a stream that flow to Browns Pond.

The property was listed for sale in 2023 and several offers were on the table for the property but a successful agreement, secured by OSI, was able to preserve the land for $1.2 million. Remaining grant funds are planned to be used by the OCWA to purchase additional property to protect the city’s drinking water sources. The land purchase was made possible with approximately $900,000 in funding from a DEC Water Quality Improvement Program (WQIP) grant and the remaining matching funds were provided by OCWA.

According to the state, the DEC’s WQIP program is funded through the Clean Water Infrastructure Act (CWIA) and the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF). The program assists with projects that improve water quality, safeguard aquatic habitat, promote flood risk reduction, restoration, and enhanced flood and climate resiliency and protect threatened drinking water sources. Acquisitions supported by WQIP help implement the goals identified in the New York State Open Space Plan and the state’s 30x30 Initiative to conserve 30 percent of New York’s lands and water by 2030.

The OCWA was created to address the long-term water needs of Orange County and supports the planning and implementation of county, municipal, and inter-municipal improvements focused on water supply, water resource protection, watershed planning and conservation. The land acquisition program was developed to purchase land and/or conservation easements on properties that, if developed, could negatively impact the City of Newburgh’s reservoirs which are Washington Lake and Browns Pond.

With the acquisition secured, OCWA Chairperson Dominic Cordisco expressed satisfaction with it and thanks to all those involved as it was a long process to get to this point. The difficulty with the process was finding those interested to engage in these conservation and protection efforts even after engaging in various public outreach efforts.

Cordisco explained the parcel was previously under contract for development and was set to be sold by an estate. The intent was to convert the parcel into single family residences. However, the sale did not move forward and thus conversations were then engaged to sell the parcel to the OCWA.

Cordisco also spoke on why the community and people should be interested in these types of efforts. “The indirect benefit of this is that it preserves that viewshed in that area but that was not our focus. So rather than seeing additional development throughout that area that will be a benefit to people that are just having to be in that area and driving through and it will remain open and natural in its current state,” said Cordisco.

“Our focus is on public health, period. Public health through drinking water. And so what comes out the tap matters to us and it might be something that people are either more aware of or less aware of, but at the end of the day, regardless of their knowledge about it, it’s important for us to, as a county agency, to be doing what we can, where we can to ensure that there is a safe drinking water supply with limited resources that we have to be able to try to help that out,” Cordisco continued.

Similar to Cordisco’s comments, OCWA member Wayne Vradenburgh was also satisfied with the acquisition, thanking the various agencies involved with this effort that has now reached its conclusion. Going forward, Vradenburgh looks towards working for not only the conservation and protection of this local watershed but all other water sources in the county.

Elected and state officials shared statements on the acquisition and look forward to the future of the land and its impact to the greater surrounding community. “Following the discovery of PFAS in Washington Lake which rendered the City of Newburgh’s primary drinking water supply unusable, Governor [Kathy] Hochul has shown her commitment to environmental justice by providing funding for Catskill Aqueduct drinking water for our residents,” City of Newburgh Mayor Torrance Harvey said. “When the Catskill Aqueduct undergoes routine maintenance, the City of Newburgh uses its backup water supply reservoir at Brown’s Pond as its drinking water source. Now, with funding from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Water Quality Improvement Program, Governor Hochul has reaffirmed her commitment to our City of Newburgh residents by protecting the Brown’s Pond watershed. The City of Newburgh is grateful to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Open Space Institute, and the Orange County Water Authority for their work to preserve the reservoir’s watershed and ensure a continued source of clean drinking water for the City.”

“New York State’s record investments are ensuring long-term access to clean drinking water, and DEC is fortunate to work with partners like the Open Space Institute and Orange County Water Authority to achieve our goals,” DEC Interim Commissioner Sean Mahar said. “This project will help protect the water supply in the city of Newburgh, not only as a drinking water source, but also as a valuable environmental and economical resource for the region.”

“In fast-growing Orange County, this project will safeguard sources of clean drinking water for Newburgh, preventing new sources of pollution from being introduced into the watershed,”OSI President and CEO Erik Kulleseid said. “OSI is extremely proud to build on our decades-long commitment to protecting clean water by successfully facilitating a complicated project that is critical to this community’s continued health and well-being.”