Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New York City Counts the Cost of Pure Water

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New York City Counts the Cost of Pure Water

Article excerpt

SPILLING down from the Catskill Mountains through an intricate system of aqueducts and reservoirs, the Big Apple's drinking water has long rated top marks for taste and quality.

Yet keeping the quality high is evolving into a major challenge for New York City. Two-thirds of the 2,000-square-mile watershed area north of the city is privately owned. Development pressures are strong. Some counties threaten lawsuits.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants New York to build a large, expensive water-filtration plant.

New York already is slated to build one plant in the Bronx to filter about 10 percent of the city's drinking water, which comes from the densely populated Croton watershed area. The EPA-proposed second plant to cover the other 90 percent would cost at least $6 billion to build and $300 million to maintain. Most major cities have such filtration systems. San Francisco recently decided to build one, though its drinking water comes from Yosemite National Park.

New York City officials, supported by environmentalists, regional planners, and business interests, are fighting the demand. Water rates could soar

Officials say the cost would more than double already-high home water rates. They could better attack the problem more cheaply through tighter land-use rules and land purchases. They cite the recent experience of Milwaukee - where microbes that scientists associate with public health problems survived the city's filtration system - as proof that filtering is no magic answer. Yet developers, the city says, would point to the plant as an easy excuse for doing whatever they want in the watershed area.

So far, the EPA is listening. In return for winning a one-year waiver on building the new plant, New York City environmental officials are scrambling to meet 60 stringent conditions set by the agency. Carrying very specific deadlines, they range from reporting requirements to land acquisitions. The city hopes to win a second EPA reprieve by the end of this year. "We're doing as much as we can within budget and personnel constraints," says Ian Michaels, spokesman for the city's Department of Environmental Protection. …

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