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On tap in 2018: NYC will continue to provide pristine, unfiltered water for its residents

Photo courtesy Jeff Turner via Flickr CC

Just in time for the new year, the New York State Health Department released the 2017 Filtration Avoidance Determination that will allow New York City to continue providing pristine, unfiltered Catskill Mountain water to 9.5 million New York City and Hudson Valley consumers for the next decade, barring any unforeseen emergencies.

New York City operates one of only five major unfiltered water supply systems in the country by protecting the water at its source in the Catskill Mountains. (The others are Boston, Portland, Ore., San Francisco, and Seattle.) Instead of constructing a filtration plant estimated to cost taxpayers upwards of $10 billion, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection — along with its many partners in the watershed communities — operates a diverse set of programs to prevent those pollutants from ever reaching surface waters. Among many other things, the City acquires land for preservation, helps farmers implement healthy fertilizer management practices, repairs compromised septic systems, and conducts a robust water sampling system. As the Filtration Avoidance Determination requires, the Department of Environmental Protection will continue these crucial programs throughout the next decade.

To complement these core programs, there are several key new provisions in the 2017 Filtration Avoidance Determination that will protect our world renowned water supply while preserving a living watershed where local communities can thrive economically. For instance, the Department of Environmental Protection will convene an independent scientific review of all the filtration avoidance programs, reconfigure its land acquisition program to focus on sensitive streamside and flood-prone properties, expand the septic system program to cover new businesses, and construct a new office space within the watershed to house Department of Environmental Conservation and Catskill Watershed Corporation staff.

Riverkeeper is appreciative that the Health Department will oversee a mid-term public review of the filtration avoidance programs after five years, as a wealth of new information on these programs will become available within the next few years to inform potential new or modified watershed protection measures.

As the beneficiaries of over one hundred years of smart planning and engineering to create our water supply, it is now up to all of us to safeguard the supply and guarantee future generations will likewise benefit from it. And we must do so while preserving the vitality of Catskill communities. The 2017 Filtration Avoidance Determination is an important step to achieve these goals, and yet many challenges still lie ahead of us. Chief among those is the significant harm borne by the lower Esopus Creek and Ulster County communities resulting from the discharge of highly turbid, muddy waters from the City’s Ashokan Reservoir. The delinquent environmental impact statement should have been completed before discharges began over seven years ago. Riverkeeper will continue to pursue an urgent, problem-solving approach to expedite the completion of the study, as we maintain our watchdog role over watershed operations.

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