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