Last Revised 3/02/01

Watershed Rules and Regulations


The New York State Public Health Law allows local water supply officials to initiate a process leading to enactment of watershed rules and regulations by the Commissioner of the State Health Department.  These rules were first developed in the late 19th century to protect tributary streams and reservoirs used to supply drinking water.  They were later applied to public wellfields and adjacent aquifer areas.  Most of the nearly 200 public supply systems that have adopted watershed rules did so prior to 1940.

Watershed rules specify minimum linear setbacks for different uses.  For example, many regulations prohibit the location of salt storage sites within 500 feet of public supply wells, reserviors or tributary streams to reservoirs.  Since 1972, setback standards have been promoted for activities involving synthetic organic chemicals; however, for this class of contaminants, a minimum distance may not be effective because of their persistence and ability to effect large areas over extended periods of time.

The limitations of existing watershed rules were documented in the 1981 NYSDOH sponsored study "Water Supply Source Protection Rules and Regulations Project."   The report concludes that water supply protection regulations should be customized to the particular hydrogeologic conditions existing at the public supply wellfield or reservoir; and that the concept of minimum acceptable distance does not address the differences between types of potential contaminants such as pathogens and synthetic organic chemicals, nor the inherent characteristics of groundwater transport found in different geologic and hydrologic situations.

Watershed rules and regulations are unique in being the only controls specifically designed to protect public water supplies.  These regulations are prepared jointly by the water purveyor and the NYSDOH local public health engineer.  Enforcement responsibility, such as with the use of a Watershed Inspector, rests with the water purveyor, the district NYSDOH health officer, and in some cases, the city or county health department.  This joint administration and enforcement is an advantage for small communities that may lack necessary resources and expertise.

Goal:  Use existing watershed rules and regulations to assisting in preserving water quality in Cayuga Lake.

Existing Measures:


Watershed Inspector

Potential Responsibilities

Model Intermunicipal Agreement for Watershed Inspector

Model Budget for Watershed Inspector

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CLW IO 2004