New Yorkers are fortunate to have some of the finest tap water in the world. Most of this drinking water comes from three upstate reservoir systems called watersheds. These watersheds provide up to 1.5 billion gallons of unfiltered drinking water to over nine million New Yorkers daily. A remarkable engineering achievement, New York City’s water delivery system is a 6,000-mile network of pipes, shafts and subterranean aqueducts operating for the most part on gravity alone. It is the single largest manmade financial asset in New York State.
Riverkeeper played a critical role in the first broad-based watershed legislation in 1997, and continues to be one of the primary watchdogs enforcing compliance in the city’s three major watershed regions. Our watershed work encompasses the enforcement of environmental laws; monitoring sprawl development in the watershed; working with communities and government on proactive programs to achieve long-term protection of the NYC Watershed; advocating for stronger watershed protection policies on a local, state and federal level; and encouraging New Yorkers to choose tap water over bottled water.
To achieve our goal of watershed protection, we rely on compliance with and proper enforcement of federal, state, and local environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act and the Watershed Memorandum of Agreement. These protection measures allow New York City to avoid the billion dollar cost of operating and maintaining a filtration system for the Catskill-Delaware water supply and keep the drinking water supply clean and protected.
Out-of-state oil and gas companies are exploring the possibility of extracting natural gas by drilling into the shale reserves below the NYC Watershed, using a process called “hydraulic fracturing.” Fracturing involves injecting under high pressure a toxic brew of chemicals, sand, and up to a million gallons of water per well, directly into shale formations deep below the earth’s surface. This toxic brew, along with any natural gas, would then be extracted, or leaked to the surface, potentially contaminating New York City’s drinking water supply. Learn More
Because NYC’s water supply is unfiltered, an aggressive program of watershed protection is essential to protect it at its source. The continued quality of the city’s premier drinking water depends on ensuring that the watersheds remain unpolluted and that the water infrastructure is sound.
Threats to the quality of the drinking water from the NYC Watershed include: sprawl-style development, industrial gas drilling, aging infrastructure, funding shortfalls, turbidity and pharmaceuticals in the water.
Riverkeeper’s Watershed Program also serves as a government agency watchdog. Specifically, we continually monitor the operations of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the agency tasked with overseeing the operation and maintenance of New York City’s water supply.
Principal sources of contaminated stormwater runoff are construction and industrial activities. In addition, municipal storm sewer systems convey stormwater to receiving waters and often discharge it with inadequate treatment. Reducing and/or capturing and treating stormwater runoff before it reaches streams and other receiving waters enhances their protection and allows streams to perform their function as natural processors of waterborne contaminants.
Rampant, unchecked – sprawling – development projects have a tremendous impact on New York’s environment, local economies, health, and quality of life. New York is in need of a comprehensive Smart Growth alternative to sprawl which increases impervious surfaces, traffic, air pollution, noise pollution and infrastructure costs, while degrading water quality, reducing biodiversity and reducing open space.