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New York City’s drinking water is world renowned for its purity and taste. It routinely wins taste tests and won first prize at the 2008 New York State Fair, beating out 150 other communities. Most of New York City’s drinking water travels by aqueduct from three upstate reservoir systems, called watersheds. The geology of the forests, swamps and farms in the watersheds naturally filter out pollutants, rendering the water pure enough to supply drinking water to over 9 million New Yorkers daily.
The NYC Watershed system – the Croton, Catskill and Delaware watersheds – while comprising only 4.2% of New York State’s land mass, provide up to 1.5 billion gallons of unfiltered drinking water through a 6,000-mile network of pipes, shafts and subterranean aqueducts. The system that delivers the city’s water from 19 upstate reservoirs is a remarkable engineering achievement and the single largest man-made financial asset in New York State.
New York City’s drinking water meets all state and federal drinking water standards. It is treated with chlorine to kill bacteria, fluoride to strengthen teeth, orthophosphate to decrease the release of lead from household pipes, and at times sodium hydroxide to lower acidity and reduce corrosiveness. New York State’s Department of Environmental Protection continually monitors the water in the reservoirs and the distribution system.
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.
Residents of New York City and the Hudson Valley who depend on the City’s unfiltered drinking water supply want to know whether their tap water is safe to drink. Riverkeeper’s Watershed Team has undertaken a multi-year study in order to answer that question. We examined and compared New York City’s water quality to the drinking water quality of thirteen other large U.S. cities, including four that also rely on unfiltered water supplies.