How high is the water?: Jerry Washington examines Woodstock’s system

Jerry Washington

Jerry Washington, who is preparing to teach the final session of his Woodstock University course on the structure and condition of the Woodstock Water System this Wednesday, November 30, holds up a heavy three-ring folder of well-organized PowerPoint and other background materials to explain what he’s gotten from the new W.U.

“It got me organized,” he says. “I was able to finally get all my materials together into a single presentation.”

Wide in its scope, it stretches, historically, from the system’s first mention back in the 1930s through its initiation in 1947, first expansion into the Bearsville flats in the late 1940s and up to the Playhouse/Plochmann Lane developments in the 1950s. It includes a narrative outlining a more recent expansion to the Rotron areas along Route 375 and the Woodstock Elementary School, and today’s situation where it has all become a somewhat forgotten element in town governance and politics, at least according to Washington. Data-wise, there’s a wealth of materials reaching from well studies performed for municipally-sponsored or Health Department-demanded tests, as well as every bridge built around town, to a detailed delineation of the town’s underlying aquifer and ratings of its quality, as well as its quantity.


Washington, whose real first name is George, came to town in the 1950s, an IBM employee who taught fellow employees the systematic way one needed to think to use the first supercomputers. After retiring in 1990, he started busying himself with civic information projects. He produced traffic studies that helped determine placement of the Woodstock Post Office out Tinker Street, instead of on Rock City Road. He showed how plans for a major arts and crafts fair on the Comeau Propertyy could clog all movement in and through the town. He tried helping the highway department decide where to place its main garage…only to have to bow out of the process when politics trumped the facts he’d dragged into the limelight. After purchasing GIS equipment over a decade ago, and taking courses to get up to speed on hydraulics, he took to focusing on the town’s water systems, including its wellheads and aquifer, and their safety. As well as buried fuel tanks around town and other related matters.

“I like to be able to help or at least make sure those people making decisions have the facts,” he says of what drives him.

To date, he added, his first two classes averaged just under a dozen students, including former town supervisor John Mower and just-elected councilman Ken Panza. Iris York, of Woodstock SAGE, has attended. As have some public policy sorts and other involved citizens.

Towards the end of his presentation, Washington runs summaries of recent activities involving Woodstock’s water system. This includes calls for the creation of a Wellhead Protection Overlay District, so the town could assure no pollution of its water, either through seepage or the increasing likelihood of water overruns from the nearby Sawkill Creek, which has become an increasing problem with similar systems in recent years (and harmed quite a few Catskills water systems as a result of the recent Irene floods). There are calls for an Aquifer Protection District, and lists of the percentage of lost water each year over the past decade. Data on well depths, set at 20 feet where they could have (and in Washington’s view, should have) been two to three times such depths, for better water and water safety reasons.

A timeline shows these concerns coming up, reports being written, and nothing being done about proposed changes over the years. Washington says that the final session of his course will include discussion of action plans to better safeguard Woodstock’s water. Privately, he talks about political decisions that have frustrated him as those in charge push aside simple actions, from passage of proposed laws to well depth extensions, that they feel might prove unpopular. And notes how his reports and suggestions have repeatedly fallen on deaf ears.

Is there enough water in town, and for the proposed extension to the new Woodstock Commons affordable housing development being built by Rural Ulster Preservation Company behind Bradley Meadows? Yes, Washington says. No question. Is the town’s water safe to drink? Yes, he answers…but it could be made safer.

Which, he adds, is why he’s taught this course. He doesn’t feel there’s enough room for discussion of the town’s infrastructure needs, or real long-distance planning, on the town’s official calendar. Which is why he gladly took up the offer from Woodstock U. to teach a course on the matter.

And why he’s now open to doing a public presentation on his findings, and recommendations, if asked.

“I’d do this at the Community Center, or the library,” Washington says. “What’s important is that we discuss these things. I’m tired of doing studies, amassing factual information, and not having it looked at.”


Continued learning at W.U. 

As for W.U. — it’s a revised concept for continued learning, and community-building, envisioned and put together by Barry Samuels, formerly of The Golden Notebook, and Julia Perce. It started this fall with five courses taught on local genealogy, Clarence Schmidt and other Woodstock eccentrics, the Petershams and Holley Cantine by such local founts of knowledge as Jay Wenk, Lawrence Webster, Carl Van Wagenen, Tad Wise… and Jerry Washington.

“So many tales so, much talent, so many histories, so much inter-connectedness! By bringing together those with experience and tales to share and those seeking better knowledge of their surroundings, we thought WU could be a force to bring people together while preserving and archiving the many histories and features of Woodstock for years to come,” is how Samuels and Perce have put it on their new school’s website. “We all have something to share about Woodstock! So, here we are!”++


Washington notes that for more on his course, either stop by his last class at 6 Hillcrest  Avenue on Wednesday, November 30 between 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., e-mail him at, or just give him a call at 679-6300.

For more on Woodstock University, visit, e-mail, or call either 679-2091 or 679-7455.