Environment

by Arvolyn Hill

The complex story of how New York City gets it water was told by puppets last Sunday, July 28, in a theatrical production at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.  

The reservoirs in the Catskills and the Ashokan dam were built in 1910 when it became clear that the Croton Reservoir system could not meet the city’s needs. In 1902 the city considered building the reservoir in the Tenmile River watershed, which would have flooded the towns of Dover and Amenia.  

392 by Arvolyn Hill

To build the Ashokan dam, the entire valley was cleared of trees and houses. At 1,000 feet long, 250 feet high and 240 feet thick, it was the largest dam of its time.  

Puppeteers Patrick Wadden and Marlena Marallo told the story, delighting the audience filled with children at the Cary Institute auditorium, using puppets of papier-mâché, cardboard, silk and wood.

The story begins with water. Rain falls from the sky, turning into rivers in “rhythms that have been repeated for millions of years.” Huge tree roots act like the filtering kidneys of the forest, trees grow and streams ripple—blue silk scarves wave as precious water.

THE first time around, in Gasland, the producer, director, and writer Josh Fox was the eyes-wide-open innocent, predisposed to be suspicious of big corporations yet a journalist driven by his need to know. Personally, he was hoping that the $100,000 he was offered to lease the family land was wholly legitimate—that shale gas was exactly what the industry and many newly well-off landowners said it was, a boon to rural America and the best answer to the country’s energy needs.  

Then Fox learned about Dimock (dim-ahk), a hilly, hard-luck township of 1,500 in northeastern Pennsylvania 20 miles from the New York border and just a few leagues from his place. Cabot Energy had hydrofractured gas wells there. Residents started finding methane (natural gas) in their home water.  Pure methane is colorless, odorless, poisonous to most life forms, and violently explosive, even in small quantities. Ultimately, at least 18 homes were infiltrated.  

“The timing of the publication of the book and the return of the cicadas is perfect,” remarked Cary Institute President, Bill Schlesinger in his introduction to a lecture on cicadas on June 6.  

John Cooley, an entomologist who teaches at the University of Connecticut and David Rothenberg, a self-described ‘interspecies musician’ and author of the book, “Bug Music: How Insects gave us Rhythm and Noise” have teamed up to celebrate and describe the complex mating calls and rituals of the species which Dr. Coley referred to as “the marvelous magicicada,” which is actually its species name.

The cicadas can be heard almost every year of the 17-year cycle in different regions of the U.S. during any one year. However because this year the periodic 17-year is happening all at once along the Eastern coastline it is getting a lot of press. 

381 the cicadas visit after a 17 year absence - photo by Dave Rothenberg

When the periodic cycles appeared in the 1600’s the pilgrims thought they were deadly plagues of locusts and many people still call cicadas locusts.  They are not, infact locusts, but members of the grasshopper family.  

The towns of Dover and Pawling will be recognized by The Appalachian Trail Conservancy at a ceremony on June 15 for their cooperation in promoting and hosting a portion of the famed 2000 mile hiking trail that runs from Maine to South Carolina. 

The designation draws attention to the role the towns play in protecting the land through which the trail runs and the land which hikers see from the ridges - the scenic views that are not owned by the government.  Only a portion of the land is protected by an easement.    

Expected speakers include Congressman Chris Gibson, Wendy Janssen, Superintendent of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, Mark Wenger and Karen Lutz of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and officials from Dover and Pawling. Mary Kay Verba, Director of Dutchess County Tourism, Ed Goodell of the NY-NJ Trail Conservancy and Karin Roux of the Dutchess Land Conservancy are also expected to speak. 

by Carola Lott

Poet Katherine Larson said the two weeks she spent as the writer in residence at the Cary Institute were an “absolutely fantastic” experience. 

The opportunity to talk the institute’s scientists about topics ranging from urban ecology to disease ecology to ecological engineering gave her fresh insights for the two book projects she is currently working on. One project is a book of poetry and the other a “lyrical novel.”  Even when writing fiction Larson says, “As someone with a background in science, I’m a writer that’s very invested in getting the details right.”

Larson, who was born and raised in Arizona, has been interested in biology since childhood. Her father was a professor of forestry and her mother a fourth grade teacher with a passion for science. At the University of Arizona in Tucson Larson received a B.S. in ecology and evolutionary biology as well as a B.A. in English and creative writing. 

The havoc wrought by hurricanes Sandy and Irene heightened awareness of the impacts of flooding.  In a forum sponsored by the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Dutchess, Columbia, and Greene counties; the New York Water Resources Institute; the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Hudson River Estuary Program; and the Hudson Estuary Watershed Resiliency project, an impressive roster of experts came together at the Cary Institute to present an overview of major flooding events, which are expected to happen more frequently. New York has suffered eleven flooding events requiring FEMA assistance in the last 15 years, according to Wayne Reynolds, one of the presenters.  In 2007, in Delaware County, four lives were lost, hundreds of homes destroyed, and 11 inches of rain came down in four hours.  In 2011, again in Delaware County, $15 million of damage was sustained, with bridges and roads having to be replaced and repaired. According to the experts who presented at the forum, the answer is not in engineering. We have to work with nature, move away from old infrastructure and understand where we can and cannot develop.  

Volunteerism in science has two sides: it helps scientists collect data that needs many hands to accumulate and it saves money, which is in short supply in the research field, but it also subjects the data collected to question as to its reliability. These issues were discussed by Dr. Stuart Findlay, a Cary scientist who runs an annual data collection program called Submerged Aquatic Vegetation on the Hudson. His remarks followed a talk at the Cary by Akiko Busch, whose book The Incidental Steward was inspired by her Cary residency. Her experiences there led her to better understand the role of volunteer scientists and what insights can be gained from being one.