PlaNYC: Water Supply



New York has one of the best water sys­tems in the entire world.  Our water is clear and clean, and is only one of five oth­er cities in the Unit­ed States that does not have to be fil­tered. All of our water comes from water­sheds in Upstate New York, and this sup­ply is abun­dant enough to meet our pro­ject­ed growth.  How­ev­er, there are many repairs and fix­es that need to hap­pen in order to pre­serve our great nat­u­ral resource; the costs of inac­tion are too high.


From the Catskill and Delaware Water­shed and the Cro­ton Aque­duct sys­tem, the water


then goes through only three tun­nels to dis­trib­ute it to New York City.  Tun­nel No. 1 was com­plet­ed in 1917, and has not been turned off since it start­ed run­ning.  Tun­nel No. 2

began ser­vice in 1936, cov­er­ing Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. Con­struc­tion on Tun­nel No. 3 began in 1998.  Stage 1 is com­plet­ed, and it is now oper­ati

ng to ser­vice the­Bronx and Upper Man­hat­tan.  Stage 2 will be in ser­vice for Man­hat­tan by the end of 2013, and in ser­vice in Brook­lyn and Queens when two con­nec­tions are made so that Tun­nel 3 is inte­grat­ed seam­less­ly into the sys­tem.  Tun­nel No. 3 will provide nec­es­sary redun­dan­cy and allow the city to repair Tun­nel No. 1 for the first time in his­to­ry.


In the next 10 years, the City will invest near­ly $7 bil­lion to ensure the pro­tec­tion of our water sup­ply from con­t­a­m­i­na­tion, spurring eco­nom­ic activ­i­ty for the city, acquir­ing water­shed lands from will­ing sell­ers, and repair­ing key infra­struc­ture for New York’s water sup­ply.

Ini­tia­tive 1: Con­tin­ue the Water­shed Pro­tec­tion Pro­gram

The Fil­tra­tion Avoid­ance Deter­mi­na­tion (FAD) is tes­ta­ment to New York’s pristine water qual­i­ty; it is a spe­cial waiver that deter­mined New York does not need a fil­tra­tion sys­tem. It is of utmost impor­tance that we main­tain this high qual­i­ty because fil­tra­tion plants are extreme­ly cost­ly.  There­fore, the City is imple­ment­ing a $462 mil­lion Water­shed Pro­tec­tion Pro­gram that tar­gets the great­est poten­tial threats to our water sup­ply.  It com­bi­nes pro­tec­tion, land acqui­si­tion, and envi­ron­men­tal­ly sus­tain­able eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment to main­tain the qual­i­ty of water sup­ply.


Ini­tia­tive 2: Pro­tect the water sup­ply from hydrofrack­ing for nat­u­ral gas

Under­neath the Catskill and Delaware water­sheds is part of the Mar­cel­lus Shale rock for­ma­tion.  This could poten­tial­ly be the largest source of nat­u­ral gas in the Unit­ed States, and many com­pa­nies and devel­op­ers are seek­ing per­mis­sion for the process of hydraulic frac­tur­ing (hydrofrack­ing) to extract this gas.  How­ev­er, hydrofrack­ing pos­es seri­ous and cost­ly threats to our water sup­ply.  It is an unre­fined process that could per­ma­nent­ly con­t­a­m­i­nate our entire water sup­ply by leak­ing haz­ardous chem­i­cals into the ground.  The city will there­fore com­plete­ly oppose all drilling for nat­u­ral gas with­in the water­shed.


Ini­tia­tive 3: Com­plete the Catskill/Delaware Ultra­vi­o­let (UV) Dis­in­fec­tion Facil­i­ty

While we do not need an entire fil­tra­tion plant, water still needs to be treat­ed for bac­te­ria, and this can be done with a UV Dis­in­fec­tion Facil­i­ty.  The world’s largest UV dis­in­fec­tion facil­i­ty will be in ser­vice by May 2012.


Ini­tia­tive 4: Com­plete the Cro­ton Water Fil­tra­tion Plan

The old­est and small­est of the City’s water­sheds is the Cro­ton sys­tem.  It only sup­plies about 10% of the City’s water annu­al­ly.  Because it is the old­est in an area that has recent­ly become high­ly devel­oped (Westch­ester Coun­ty) Cro­ton water has sea­son­al vari­a­tions in col­or, odor, and taste.  The Cro­ton Water Fil­tra­tion Plant will be built under­neath Mosholu Golf Course in Van Cort­landt Park and com­plet­ed in 2013.  It will fea­ture the City’s largest green roof and provide up to 290 mil­lion gal­lons per day of clean water.


Ini­tia­tive 5: Repair the Delaware Aque­duct

The Delaware Aque­duct is 85 miles long and sup­plies about half of NYC’s water.  Since 1992, there have been con­tin­u­ous leaks at two dif­fer­ent places in the aque­duct.   While it has not been threat­en­ing, a $2.1 bil­lion project will be under­tak­en to repair the leak.  The City will ensure that when the Aque­duct needs to be shut off, there is enough City infra­struc­ture in place to avoid any prob­lems.  The bypass tun­nel that will be con­struct­ed is already under­way, and will hope­ful­ly break ground by 2014.


Ini­tia­tive 6: Con­nect the Delaware and Catskill Aque­ducts

The City will con­nect the two largest water­sheds so that clean­er water can be dis­trib­ut­ed from the Delaware into the Catskill Aque­duct.  This will increase the system’s con­veyance capac­i­ty and great­ly improve water qual­i­ty for New York­ers. The inter­con­nec­tion is sched­uled to begin in 2012.


Ini­tia­tive 7: Pres­sur­ize the Catskill Aque­duct

Because of the Catskill/Delaware UV Dis­in­fec­tion Facil­i­ty, the Catskill Aque­duct can­not sus­tain the cur­rent pres­sure.  Once the Catskill Aque­duct is pres­sur­ized, it will increase the vol­ume of the UV-treat­ed water that can be deliv­ered from the Catskill and Delaware water­sheds.


Ini­tia­tive 8: Main­tain and upgrade dams

Part of the water sup­ply sys­tem is the dams through­out the water­sheds.  How­ev­er 29 of the­se dams are ‘high haz­ard’ because of a pos­si­bil­i­ty of eco­nom­ic dam­age, envi­ron­men­tal harm, and loss of human life if they were to fail.  The­se require main­te­nance and repair since they were con­struct­ed almost a cen­tu­ry ago. One dam in par­tic­u­lar, the Gilboa Dam, will be upgrad­ed to meet new safe­ty stan­dards and is sched­uled to be com­plet­ed in 2016.


Ini­tia­tive 9: Com­plete City Water Tun­nel No. 3

City Water Tun­nel No. 3 is the most expen­sive cap­i­tal project in the city’s his­to­ry.  As men­tioned ear­lier, it is designed in stages, and the City is cur­rent­ly com­plet­ing State 2—the Man­hat­tan, Brook­lyn, and Queens Leg.  The com­ple­tion of the City Water Tun­nel No. 3 will enable the shut down of Tun­nel No. 1 for inspec­tion and repairs.


Ini­tia­tive 10: Build a back­up tun­nel to Staten Island

Right now, the Rich­mond tun­nel pro­vides water to Staten Island.  The Port Author­i­ty is deep­en­ing the har­bor chan­nel in which the tun­nel is locat­ed, which means part of Staten Island’s water sys­tem needs to be replaced.  A new tun­nel will be com­plet­ed by 2014.


Ini­tia­tive 11: Upgrade water main infra­struc­ture

After the water leaves the tun­nels, it goes through 6,700 water mains to reach our homes.  In order to sup­port growth, the­se mains need to be repaired and main­tained.  This com­mit­ment will save ratepay­ers mon­ey by pre­vent­ing cost­ly water main breaks, and will also facil­i­tate eco­nom­ic growth


Ini­tia­tive 12: Increase oper­a­tional effi­cien­cy with new tech­nol­o­gy

Typ­i­cal­ly, water cus­tomers’ usage was man­u­al­ly mea­sured every three months.  With new tech­nol­o­gy now avail­able, auto­mat­ic meter read­ing (AMR) devices will be installed for all 835,000 cus­tomers by 2012.  This is a giant step to con­serv­ing water and sav­ing mon­ey.  AMR devices provide real-time infor­ma­tion and offers tools to reduce water use.  The wire­less equip­ment will give home­own­ers and small busi­ness­es more accu­rate and time­ly records of usage.


Ini­tia­tive 13: Increase water con­ser­va­tion

The City’s water usage was at an all-time low in 2011, and every­one should want to con­tin­ue.  The City will “lead by exam­ple” by increas­ing water con­ser­va­tion in gov­ern­ment build­ings.  Even sim­ple things like replac­ing old toi­lets can increase effi­cien­cy of a house­hold.


We have reached a huge mile­stone in that New York­ers can take our great water sup­ply for grant­ed.  How­ev­er, the City needs to guar­an­tee this peace of mind for the future, and they will do that by upgrad­ing the entire water sys­tem, build­ing sec­ondary tun­nels for redun­dan­cy, pro­tect­ing our water­shed pro­gram, and mon­i­tor­ing our water with the newest tech­nolo­gies.

Read more:

An inter­view with Allan Frei of the CUNY Insti­tute of Sus­tain­able Cities, on New York’s water sup­ply and the effects of cli­mate change.

An info­graph­ic of New York’s water from 1800 to the present