Feds say New York City's upstate reservoirs can forgo filtering if they build new wastewater treatment facilities

June 2002

U.S. Water News Online

ALBANY, N.Y. -- New York City's sprawling upstate Catskill and Delaware reservoir systems are clean enough to allow the city to continue avoiding the filtration of water, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has determined.

The agency is circulating a proposal to continue for five more years a waiver from filtering water it first issued the city in 1997. Under federal law, surface reservoir waters used for human consumption must be filtered to remove impurities unless operators can show their water meets quality standards and watershed areas around reservoirs are protected from pollution.

``New York City continues to show that it can effectively carry out work that is crucial to ensuring the safety of drinking water coming from the Catskill-Delaware system,'' said EPA Regional Administrator Jane Kenny.

In 1996, the Pataki administration, New York City and communities around the city's upstate reservoirs reached an agreement designed to lower the chances of pollutants such as phosphorus contained in fertilizers from getting into the water supplies.

A year later, the city's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) secured a waiver from the EPA to avoid filtration. It is estimated that the cost of such a system would be about $6 billion.

Christopher Ward, commissioner of the DEP, said the ``unique coalition'' of the state, federal and upstate governments, plus some environmentalists groups, is paying off, both in ``protecting water quality and the economic viability of watershed communities.''

Chlorine is added to the city's water to kill contaminants before it reaches taps in the New York City area.

The EPA said the extension of its waiver is contingent upon the city continuing several measures to protect the reservoirs, including:

  1. Completing the upgrade of all wastewater treatment plants in the region, including the building of new plants in Phoenicia and Prattsville.
  2. Purchasing lands to buffer the Kensico Reservoir.
  3. Continuing the funding to repair about 300 septic systems a year in the watershed region.
  4. Expanding a program to help operators of small farms to reduce the runoff of agricultural chemicals and topsoil.
  5. Completing, by August 2009, the construction of an ultraviolet light facility to disinfect water in the Catskill and Delaware systems.

About 9 million people in New York City and its northern suburbs use the city's reservoir system for drinking water.