March/April 1995, p.2

Development, Road-Building Threaten NYC's Water Supply

New York City's water supply is currently being threatened by development around the "watershed," the area around a series of reservoirs located upstate. Development that has already taken place has resulted in a deterioration in the water supply. The city is currently in noncompliance with the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act amended in 1986.

Development, of course, means roads. Roads directly threaten the runoff with salt and dirt that enter the water. Additionally, road building encourages additional development of houses and farms that contribute pesticides, fertilizers, sewage and other waste. All these menaces make their way into the ground water that runs into the city's reservoirs. Contamination of the water by development has been a problem particularly at the Croton reservoir system, as well as the other reservoirs in the Catskills.

One solution being strongly pushed by the EPA, and used widely in cities around the country, is filtration. Widely viewed as inevitable as the quality of water sources deteriorated and the public demanded improved drinking water, filtration creates its own problems. Filtration is very costly and it is not foolproof, small microorganisms such as Giardia, Cryptosporidium and others may make their way through the filters, as recently happened in Milwaukee. 370,000 people there were sickened with crytosporidiosis by drinking the Wisconsin city's filtered water.

Filtration is expensive due to the cost of construction as well as the continued operation of the system. Protecting the watershed however, involves only the upfront funds to buy surrounding land, as nature does not charge for filtering water. The mayor and the DEP need to move forcefully to purchase land around the watershed and to pursue the legal effort to restrict road building and development. State senator Franz Leichter has been an advocate of stronger water protection laws for the watershed in Albany. Governor Pataki is not yet convinced, and has sent out mixed signals on the development restrictions that are opposed by many of local upstate voters who supported him. Without significant gains in upstate population, continued development in these areas is unnecessary, bad ecology, and bad economics.

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