New York City, EPA agree on water safeguards
New York City has found a way to protect the quality of its drinking water without spending billions on a new water filtration system.
A recent filtration avoidance determination issued by the EPA and effective until April 2002 allows the city to protect the quality of its drinking water by preventing pollution at the source.
The determination involves the Catskill/Delaware watershed, which consists of 19 upstate reservoirs supplying an average of 1.4 billion gpd to 9 million people in New York and its suburbs.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Gov. George Pataki, representatives of more than 60 watershed towns and counties and a coalition of environmentalists agreed to cooperate in implementation of the plan.
The plan calls for land acquisition to allow the city to potentially more than triple its holdings to about 10 percent of the watershed land. Additionally, implementation of new regulations is intended to protect the watershed, and the city also plans to invest in partnership initiatives with local governments to protect both water quality and the economic well-being of watershed communities.
The public can review and comment on compliance twice within the first five years after the agreement is implemented, says EPA Regional Administrator Jeanne Fox.
Among the conditions by which New York City will abide are:
* construction and operation of wastewater treatment plants as well as restrictions on the locations and discharges of these plants;
* prohibitions and restrictions on new septic systems, hazardous substance storage tanks and petroleum storage tanks in proximity to reservoirs and watercourses;
* prohibitions and restrictions on construction of impervious surfaces in buffer zones near reservoirs, watercourses and wetlands;
* establishment of a pesticide and fertilizer working group to analyze storage, use and application of these substances;
* watershed planning involving localities, counties and the city to identify pollution sources and determine remedial measures; and
* establishment of an administrative appeals process.
New York City's drinking water comes from two sources: the Cats-kill/Delaware watershed and the Croton Watershed in Westchester County, where the city also plans to acquire land.
In the early 1990s, EPA announced it would grant waivers from requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act if "exceptional" raw water quality could be maintained through extensive protective measures pertaining to such things as agricultural runoff and septic systems.
To qualify, the city needed to comply with the above conditions as well as others such as consistently taking extensive water samplings, monitoring groundwater to assess septic system impacts and conducting waterfowl management.
If it is deemed necessary to protect public health, EPA can still require filtration at any time. In fact, EPA announced in April that it is suing New York City for violating requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act by failing to filter drinking water from the Croton Watershed, which provides 10 percent of the city's water.
Under law, the city could have applied for a filtration waiver for the watershed if it had demonstrated exceptional water quality – quality that could be protected without filtering by implementation of strict watershed protection measures. The city did not apply for the waiver and has not built a filtration plant.