Oil spill spotted on New York City's Pepacton Reservoir

View Larger Map

Above: The Pepacton Reservoir seen from satellite imagery. The East Delaware Aqueduct begins on the southern edge of the reservoir, a few miles east of the Downsville dam. Image via Google Maps. For a map of the New York City watershed infrastructure, see this link.

In today's Walton Reporter: An oil spill was spotted last Sunday on the Pepacton Reservoir, near the East Delaware Tunnel intake chamber.

When questioned about the spill on Tuesday, the Reporter writes, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection said they had it under control:

"On Sunday, April 29, 2012, DEP Police discovered a potential oil spill in Pepacton Reservoir during routine helicopter surveillance operations and immediately dispatched staff to the site to investigate," DEP's Mercedes Padilla stated by email. "After quick action, such as deploying booms to contain the spill, DEP determined that the situation is not a threat to the water supply."

Questioned by the Watershed Post today, Padilla gave us the same quote, and repeated what the agency told the Walton Reporter:

  • The spill is no more than approximately 100 square feet in surface area in the 6,400 acre reservoir (approximately 278,784,000 square feet). 
  • DEP is working with its emergency response contractor to conduct more extensive underwater investigations in order to guide further actions.
  • DEP Police conducted a side scan sonar investigation and dropped underwater cameras to the bottom of the reservoir in an attempt to locate the source, but no objects, vessels or containers were detected.
  • DEP has increased its water sampling and analysis in response to this incident. 
  • As part of the normal water supply operations, no water has been diverted from Pepacton Reservoir since April 19, 2012.

The Reporter's Glenn Graves wrote that on Monday, neither Colchester supervisor Ted Fonda (who resigned this week) nor Delaware County Director of Emergency Services Richard Bell had been told of the spill.

Reached by phone today, Fonda told us that he noticed DEP activity on the reservoir this week.

"It couldn't have been a very large spill," he said. "If it was a major spill, the boats would have been all over the place."

Fonda said there were booms placed in a ring around the spill, and the water had no obvious oily sheen.

"Maybe 30 or 40 feet around. They were kind of an oblong shape, kind of like a hot dog," he said. "[When you see oil spilled on water] it's very obvious, it has that purple glimmer. Either they cleaned it up or it was so minor you couldn't see it."

From the size of the spill -- roughly 100 square feet, according to the DEP -- it was likely a very small amount. One gallon of oil can spread across hundreds of square feet of water.