U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson joined Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in Manhattan’s Central Park to formally announce that EPA will continue allowing the city to enjoy unfiltered drinking water from the Catskill/Delaware system for a ten-year period, provided it continues to ensure the excellent quality of the water from this system.
Due, in part, to a number of watershed protection enhancements to the city’s plan, the city has been granted this new agreement waiving the federal requirement to filter drinking water from the Catskill/Delaware watershed.
“I’ve always thought that New York City has some of the best water around, and now we’ve got confirmation from Washington. We’re grateful to the EPA for recognizing our watershed protection efforts,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “This is a vote of confidence that will save our city money, and that we’ll use in our efforts to spread the word to New Yorkers that you should be drinking tap water instead of expensive bottled water.”
“As the agency that ultimately will assume primary responsibility for regulatory oversight of this water supply, the New York State Health Department is committed to ensuring that New Yorkers have the safest and purest drinking water possible,” said New York State Department of Health commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D. “We will continue to work closely with New York City, the EPA, and the State Department of Environmental Conservation to safeguard this resource that is so vital to public health.”
All drinking water taken from surface water sources must, under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, be filtered to remove microbial contaminants. The law allows EPA to grant a waiver from this requirement to water suppliers if they demonstrate that they have an effective watershed control program and that their water meets strict quality standards. EPA first granted such a waiver, called a filtration avoidance determination (FAD), to New York City in 1993 for drinking water coming from the Catskill/Delaware watersheds. Periodic renewal of the FAD depends on the city’s implementation of a number of specific long-term watershed protection measures, which the city agreed to undertake according to a set time frame.
In 2006, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection submitted a revised long-term watershed protection plan to EPA, seeking a continued waiver for its Catskill/Delaware water supply systems. Based on a thorough review of the plan, input given during public meetings and consideration of hundreds of comments during the last two years, EPA has approved an extension of the FAD for a ten-year period, until 2017. EPA can, at any time within that period, take steps to require the city to filter its system if the Agency determines that the quality of the drinking water is threatened.
New York City’s revised watershed protection plan includes significant investments in water infrastructure as well as enhancements to and expansions of already existing projects. The city has committed a total of $300 million for land acquisition during the next ten years.
The city will provide continuing support for wastewater infrastructure initiatives, including residential septic system rehabilitation and maintenance programs, a new program for commercial septic systems, upgrades to existing wastewater plants, completion of ongoing projects for new wastewater treatment plants, three new community wastewater treatment projects, and two new sewer extension projects. The city also committed to future funding for five additional community wastewater treatment projects. Under EPA and New York State Department of Health supervision, the watershed program to control turbidity will provide a comprehensive engineering report evaluating potential capital improvements, and will develop an implementation plan.
The FAD also includes a schedule to construct an ultraviolet light (UV) disinfection plant, which is consistent with EPA’s recently issued Administrative Order on Consent with the city. This requires UV treatment for the Catskill/Delaware water supply by August of 2012. The city has chosen UV treatment to supplement its existing system of disinfecting water using chlorine. The addition of UV light to disinfect the water will provide enhanced public health protection for consumers. The city is still required to filter water from another system, called the Croton, by constructing a filtration system in the Bronx to be completed in 2011.