Freshwater for the Big Apple

Growing Blue

Fresh Water for New York City

An $8 Billion Cost Averted through Cooperation and Collaboration

The New York City water supply system delivers 1.4 billion gallons of water to 9 million people every day – not exactly a small undertaking.

Yet the system’s water managers were faced with an even greater challenge once the federal government passed the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1989. That law required filtration of the water originating from the Catskill/Delaware Water System. These are the two major groundwater sources for the New York system, providing 90 percent of the water consumed in New York City.

But the issue was not the implementation of this process, it was the cost of implementation. The cost to meet the requirements of the newly-passed law was staggering. The investment required for the filtration facilities was $8 billion.

Faced with such a large price tag, city leaders began considering other options. They ultimately proposed a comprehensive, long-range watershed protection program which would improve water quality throughout the Catskill/Delaware system. In response to this proposal, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) waived the filtration requirement in 1993.

Following concerns from farmers and the forest product industry, the Watershed Agricultural Program was implemented in 1994 in order to ensure water quality improvements without negatively impacting the watershed’s economy.

The cost for implementing the protection program was $507 million. But it saved the government nearly $7.5 billion when compared to the original filtration price tag of $8 billion.

Even more important, the effect was the same: The program made New York’s water cleaner and its supply more sustainable. New York’s success illustrates how smart planning and collaboration can mean big savings – and improved water quality.

Read more:
Watershed Management for Urban Water Supply: The New York City Experience [PDF]