NYC Water – Winter Changes – Robotic Monitoring Buoys
Revised 10-year waiver for Catskill and Delaware water supplies continues to acknowledge high quality of NYC water; DEP committed $1 billion through 2027 to continue watershed protection efforts
Revisions include a refocus of the City’s upstate land acquisition programs, pursuant to recommendations from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today announced that it received positive midpoint revisions to its 10-year waiver to continue delivering unfiltered drinking water from its Catskill and Delaware water supply systems. The waiver, known as a Filtration Avoidance Determination (FAD), was released in December 2017 and revised today by the New York State Department of Health (DOH). The City has committed an estimated $1 billion throughout the duration of the FAD by administering programs that protect the upstate reservoirs and the vast watershed lands that surround them in order to ensure the continued high quality of the City’s drinking water supply.
Significantly, the revisions incorporated recommendations from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine leading to a 43 percent reduction in the 7-year solicitation goal for the City’s upstate watersheds’ land acquisition programs through 2024.
“This newly revised waiver confirms the success of DEP’s extraordinary efforts to protect the drinking water supply and provide the highest quality drinking water in the world to the nearly 10 million New Yorkers we serve,” said DEP Commissioner Rohit T. Aggarwala. “Our investments in and partnerships with watershed farms, communities and neighbors have paid dividends protecting our most precious resource, and we will continue our focus on the watershed’s natural infrastructure while gratefully acknowledging the many partners who help promote and administer our vast watershed protection programs.”
Among the revisions, for example, the original 2017 FAD required the City’s various land acquisition programs to collectively solicit 350,000 acres of watershed land during the 7-year period 2018-2024. The revised FAD lowers that solicitation goal to 200,000 acres, against which the City has already solicited nearly 149,000 acres through 2022 representing almost 75% of the total revised 7-year goal. Additionally, the National Academies recommended focusing land acquisition solicitations to acreage most critical to water quality protection.
“This would allow NYC DEP to make strategic investments that prevent deleterious land use change on sensitive sites without unduly impeding economic vitality in the (Catskill and Delaware watersheds) region,” according to the National Academies’ Review of the New York City Watershed Protection Program report.
Other revisions to the FAD include a new economic vitality study recommended by the National Academies, to be funded by the City, that will assess the social character and economic well-being of watershed communities. The revised FAD also includes an evaluation of areas in the Kensico Reservoir basin for potential future sewer connections, an extension of a pilot collaboration between the federal Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and the City-funded Catskill Streams Buffer Initiative, and a requirement for the Stream Management Program to nominate three more water quality projects in the Ashokan Reservoir basin.
The programs outlined in the FAD are based on decades of scientific research and investment. Since the City received its first filtration waiver in the early 1990s, DEP has protected sensitive lands around the City’s upstate reservoirs, invested in private and municipal wastewater systems and upgrades, forged partnerships with watershed farmers, and focused considerable attention on the forests, streams and wetlands that comprise the natural infrastructure of the water supply region. These efforts, paired with a robust program of water quality testing and infrastructure improvements, have allowed the City to avoid the construction of a costly filtration plant for its Catskill and Delaware source water supplies.
New York City’s water supply is comprised of three distinct systems covering approximately 2,000 square miles—the Croton, Catskill and Delaware systems. The three systems’ 19 reservoirs and three controlled lakes work in concert to meet the demands of 8.5 million consumers in the five boroughs of New York City, and another 1 million people in four counties north of the City. The systems altogether deliver about 1 billion gallons of drinking water each day.
The Catskill and Delaware systems comprise the largest unfiltered water supply in the United States, delivering about 90 percent of New York City’s water on a typical day. Millions of laboratory tests in the City and the watershed show that water from these two systems continues to meet the stringent criteria to avoid filtration. The Croton System became a filtered supply in 2015. It supplies about 10 percent of the City’s water on average.
A key element of New York City’s success in watershed protection has been the development of strong relationships with watershed communities, locally based organizations, environmental groups, and federal, state and local government agencies. While the watershed protection programs are fully funded by City water rate payers, most of them are administered by watershed-based entities that partner with DEP to protect the water supply from environmental degradation or potential sources of contamination.
Including the current FAD, the City has committed more than $2.7 billion toward its watershed protection programs since 1993, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency first issued the City a waiver from the federal requirement to filter tap water that comes from surface sources such as reservoirs. A 1997 memorandum of agreement allowed the City to move ahead with three central components of source-water protection: acquisition of vacant land in the watershed to minimize pollution resulting from widespread development in areas near reservoirs and the streams that feed them; regulatory controls over new development to ensure building projects were protective of water quality; and a series of City-funded partnership programs to address existing and potential sources of water pollution. This multi-pronged approach has provided flexibility to counter evolving threats such as climate change, and the agility to reallocate resources after large storms or to meet other unforeseen needs.
DEP’s source water protection initiatives and achievements have included:
- DEP has administered a successful land acquisition program that has protected more than 157,000 acres of land through fee-simple purchases or conservation easements since 1997. These lands and easements are purchased at fair-market value, and only from willing sellers. In addition, the City already owned nearly 45,000 acres of land surrounding its reservoirs, the State of New York owns and permanently protects 210,000 acres as parkland or forestland, and other entities own and protect nearly 25,000 acres as parkland or forestland. Nearly 40 percent of the watershed is now preserved to protect the City’s high quality water supply into the future.
- The nonprofit Watershed Agricultural Council (WAC), one of the City’s primary watershed partners, has completed more than 450 “whole farm” plans that incorporate pollution prevention into the business operations of local farms. Those plans have included the installation of more than 8,400 best management practices to control runoff from farms and minimized the amount of nutrients entering local waterbodies.
- DEP has completed upgrades on all private and public wastewater treatment plants in the Catskill-Delaware watershed, including upgrades to five City-owned treatment plants and dozens not owned by the City.
- The Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC), another key partner organization funded by the City, has invested in the repair of failing septic systems across the West of Hudson watershed, with more than 6,270 repairs completed to date. CWC also works with communities to construct stormwater controls that protect water quality.
- DEP has implemented a comprehensive stream management program to restore the natural stability and flood resiliency of streams that feed the reservoir system. To date, the program has funded over 480 projects to restore stream stability and streamside vegetation along approximately 54 miles of waterways in the Catskills.
- DEP developed a comprehensive plan to manage the forests on City-owned lands, which act as nature’s filter by soaking up nutrients and preventing erosion.
- DEP administers a regulatory program to review and approve new development proposals in the watershed. All proposals must comply with standards designed to protect watershed streams and reservoirs, especially as they relate to wastewater and stormwater. Over the past 20 years DEP has reviewed more than 20,000 applications, approving 99.95 percent of them.
- DEP maintains a robust water-quality monitoring program that tests New York City’s drinking water at more than 475 sites in the watershed and from approximately 1,000 street-side sampling stations in the five boroughs. Scientists collect about 52,000 samples each year and perform nearly 640,000 analyses on those samples. In addition, a growing network of robotic monitoring equipment measured the City’s water quality about 1.2 million times each year. These laboratory tests ensure the City’s water meets and exceeds all regulations, and they also provide data to show the success of DEP’s watershed protection efforts over time.
- DEP has worked in partnership with local communities to identify and invest in projects that mitigate flooding in watershed communities. These projects, which protect water quality by minimizing the amount of debris that gets washed into streams during floods, have included the rightsizing of infrastructure such as bridges and culverts, and the relocation of key community facilities to lands that are outside of floodplains.
- Balancing the goals of watershed protection with the needs of the region, DEP has also opened 135,000 acres of City-owned property for recreation throughout the watershed. These lands and waters are open for fishing, hiking and other forms of low-impact recreation that support the tourism and outdoor recreation economies of the region.
- CWC also administers the Catskills Fund for the Future, which was established with money from the City. The local development fund provides grants and low-interest loans to support watershed businesses for job growth and retention. The fund has yielded more than $96 million in direct and leveraged investments in the Catskills, creating or retaining more than 4,900 jobs.
More information about the FAD can be found on the DOH website at the following address: https://health.ny.gov/environmental/water/drinking/nycfad/.
More information about New York City’s watershed protection programs can be found: https://nyc.gov/watershed.
The FAD applies to New York City’s six large reservoirs in the Catskill Mountains—Ashokan, Schoharie, Rondout, Neversink, Pepacton and Cannonsville—which deliver their water to the City through two large aqueducts. Some FAD programs also apply to a handful of reservoirs east of the Hudson River—including Cross River, Croton Falls, Hillview, Kensico and West Branch. Some of these reservoirs receive water from the Catskills and convey it as part of the unfiltered supply, or they have infrastructure that can pump water into the unfiltered supply during times of drought.
DEP manages New York City’s water supply, providing more than 1 billion gallons of high-quality water each day to more than 9.5 million New Yorkers. This includes more than 70 upstate communities and institutions in Ulster, Orange, Putnam and Westchester counties who consume an average of 110 million total gallons of drinking water daily from New York City’s water supply system. This water comes from the Catskill, Delaware, and Croton watersheds that extend more than 125 miles from the City, and the system comprises 19 reservoirs, three controlled lakes, and numerous tunnels and aqueducts. DEP has nearly 6,000 employees, including almost 1,000 scientists, engineers, surveyors, watershed maintainers and other professionals in the watershed. In addition to its $70 million payroll and $166 million in annual taxes paid in upstate counties, DEP has invested more than $1.7 billion in watershed protection programs—including partnership organizations such as the Catskill Watershed Corporation and the Watershed Agricultural Council—that support sustainable farming practices, environmentally sensitive economic development, and local economic opportunity. In addition, DEP has a robust capital program with a planned $20.7 billion in investments planned for the next 10 years that will create up to 3,000 construction-related jobs per year. For more information, visit nyc.gov/dep, like us on Facebook at facebook.com/nycwatershed, or follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/nycwater.