Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 363–380 | Cite as

Historical changes in the food and water supply systems of the New York City Metropolitan Area

  • Dennis P. Swaney
  • Renee L. Santoro
  • Robert W. Howarth
  • Bongghi Hong
  • Kieran P. Donaghy
Original Article


The history of New York City (NYC) is much shorter than those of most European cities, but New York shares in common the problem of providing sufficient water and food to its inhabitants from its watershed and foodshed. These resource provision areas have grown over time and changed in character as they expanded in tandem with the growth of the city. In contrast to some cities, such as Paris, which historically has been supported by local food production, NYC’s status as a trade center has enabled the supply of food from distant sources from early in its history. NYC’s transportation system has rapidly evolved from early roads to canals, railroads, and modern surface and air transport networks. The development of the hydraulic engineering of the City’s reservoir, aqueduct, and tunnel system determined the extent of its water supply watersheds. Deviations from general growth trends in food and water consumption have occurred due to environmental and economic disruptions. As the growth of the city slowed in the last few decades, environmental technology has reduced the impact of the City on its environment, due to water metering, reduction of leakage, and improvements in waste treatment. However, per capita food consumption in the US continues to increase, with implications for the environmental health of New York and its region, as well as other centers of net anthropogenic nutrient inputs.


New York Water supply Foodprint Historical ecology Urban ecology Urban studies Foodshed Watershed Nitrogen Net anthropogenic nitrogen inputs NANI Water use Food consumption 



This work was supported in part by the NOAA Coastal Hypoxia Research Program, the Hudson River Foundation, and the USDA-funded Agriculture, Energy & Environment Program at Cornell University. This paper is Contribution #147 in the NOAA Coastal Hypoxia Research Program series. We thank Karin Limburg for comments on a draft of the manuscript.

Supplementary material

10113_2011_266_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (7.3 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 7521 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dennis P. Swaney
    • 1
  • Renee L. Santoro
    • 1
  • Robert W. Howarth
    • 1
  • Bongghi Hong
    • 1
  • Kieran P. Donaghy
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.Department of City and Regional PlanningCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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