The Watershed Series: One Educator’s Love Affair with the New York City Water Supply System

My love affair with the Watershed  started in 2009 when The Queens Museum of Art and Department of Environmental Protection teamed up to bring the Watershed Relief Map back to view in a long term exhibit at the museum. What is the Watershed Relief map, you ask? The relief map is a scale model of the New York City watershed measuring 700 square feet and weighing 10,000 pounds.  Yea, pretty heavy. The Board of Water Supply commissioned the Cartographic Survey Force of the Works Progress Administration to create the relief map in 1937 in preparation for the 1939 World’s Fair.  So, naturally, the Queens Museum is displaying the brilliantly constructed and recently restored map as one part of the many world’s fair remnants, since QMA is the last standing building from the 1939 World’s Fair.

But like any love story, I had not realized what was right under my nose from the very beginning.

Though the model, as an object, is extremely impressive and the lighting system that traces the City’s water supply system from the Delaware River to the Nassau County Line is a fun added extra, the map itself does not display the beauty of the greenery in upstate New York or the stories of the people who currently live in the public and privately owned lands of the Catskill region. Surprisingly, there is no actual water anywhere on the map!

That is why in 2009 the Queens Museum of Art took a bus trip up to the Catskills to see what all the fuss was about.  The tour, funded by Watershed Agriculture Council was designed by Jessica Olenych along with Lauren Schloss, Director of Education at QMA and whole museum staff attended, including artists, curators, security guards, and business managers.

The experience was so much fun and extremely informative. We learned all about the Watershed protection programs the DEP has in place to keep our water safe and clean. We visited the Ashokan Reservoir and took in the sights, smells and sounds of nature at its finest.  We hiked by the Esopus River where much of the water we drink passes through, and visited galleries within small towns prospering in the Watershed region.


Visiting with our upstate friends highlighted the importance of our positive relationship with the folks who help provide us with fresh drinking water. I, a NYC resident and fresh water drinker, am so excited to develop a curriculum and teach about the Watershed from the impressive model housed in the Queens Museum of Art.

To learn more about the New York City Water supply system visit the DEP website:

To visit the Queens Museum and learn more about the Watershed Relief Map visit:

Translate this page: