Raise a Glass to the Catskills

Olive, New York (in the Catskill Mountains)
New York City
Saturday, October 14, 2017

In October 1917, people in all five boroughs of New York City were able to turn on their taps and receive some of the cleanest unfiltered water of any city in the world.

Although this engineering feat was a boon to New Yorkers, it was a severe hardship to many families in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, who lost their homes, land, and communities when local waters were harnessed to create the reservoir system.

What went unmentioned then were the sacrifices citizens of the Catskills had made to send this water to the city.  Eight towns were erased, people’s houses and livelihoods obliterated, and psychic wounds were sustained that have moved down the generations, even to this day.

On the 100th anniversary of this event of mixed emotions, Radical Joy for Hard Times acknowledged both the engineering feat to the city and the hardships to the Catskills. We asked New Yorkers to “raise a glass” of their excellent city drinking water to the people of the Catskills, then we took their photos and made them into a book. We presented the book to descendants of these impacted families and the town library of Olive, New York, along with a message of gratitude in recognition for the pain their ancestors suffered. 

Our partners in the project, Catskills Watershed Corporation and the New York Department of Environmental Protection sponsored a production of City That Drinks the Mountain Sky, Part II, a fanciful, informative, and innovative tale using masks, puppets and creative staging to tell the story of  how Catskills water reaches New York—and how the future depends on continued cooperation.

Photos from “Raise a Glass to the Catskills”

Watch the slide show below to learn the story of how New Yorkers “raised a glass” of drinking water to the land and people of the Catskill Mountains upstate, where much was sacrificed to make possible some of the purest unfiltered water of any city in the world.