Back to list

Mary Mattingly on Public Water and care systems

May 6, 2020
Mary Mattingly

This past Earth Day was slated to mark the opening of Mary Mattingly’s Public Water project at Prospect Park. While the project is currently on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we are using this time to reflect upon environmental stewardship and commons. Below Mattingly reflects on Public Water from quarantine, where she’s washing her clothes in the sink, and in the next couple of weeks, we will launch a year-long social media campaign titled “A year of (Public) Water,” and a dedicated website.

In the face of ever-shrinking shared common space, Public Water was instigated by the need to strengthen commons together. It was important to align with Earth Day to acknowledge the interdependencies that make up our intertwined lives as humans: it goes without saying that we are, of course, part of and dependent on earth. 

Due to heavy use of agricultural chemicals, I grew up without clean drinking water not far from New York City. Therefore, learning about the New York City drinking watershed came with the territory when I moved to Brooklyn in 2001. As a New York City resident, I’m dependent on New Yorkers who live within and protect the drinking watershed for city residents. They are life partners with me and over eight million people, but that relationship has to be more equitable. 

The history of New York City’s drinking watershed is messy and cruel, coming at enormous expenses to those in what is now considered watershed territory. But these histories are always still in the making. With New York on pause we celebrated Earth Day from our homes. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of recognizing the people behind the services we take for granted, including utilities. During this time, I’m asking New York City residents to forge deeper relationships between those who care for one of our most basic needs. How can NYC residents appreciate the rarely-seen labor NYS residents (and nonhumans) do? The NYC drinking watershed is considered one of the best water systems in the world. From a policy perspective it has become more equitable over time, but there’s still more work to do. How can New York City residents strengthen these relationships, and therefore our shared commons, together?

—Mary Mattingly, April 2020.