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Ensuring a Safe Water Supply for New York City Given Considerable Environmental, Regulatory, and Political Constraints

Author(s): How Conservation, Watershed Protection, Adaptive Flow Management, and Water Quality Optimization were Sucessfull in Providing a Continuous Supply of Drinking Water for New York City
Congress: 2008

Keyword(s): water supply dependability, watershed protection, conservation, adaptive flow management
AbstractEnsuring a safe dependable water supply for the City of New York over both the short and long-term involved implementing an innovative program comprised of four key program elements: water conservation to reduce overall system demand, watershed protection geared at instituting both remedial and antidegredative water quality measures, applying adaptive flow management strategies to address flooding and adequate fishery releases downstream of large water supply impoundments, and adjusting to an ever more stringent government water quality regulatory framework. The cornerstone of the City's program has been its water conservation program; it was essential to establish an institutional approach to reducing the City's overall demand as part and parcel to the other three program elements, i.e., watershed protection, adaptive flow management, and regulatory compliance. The conservation program which included, the installation of water meters and hydrant locking devices, a toilet rebate initiative, and the enactment of a low-flow fixtures law, helped to reduce water consumption by 200-250 million gallons a day over a 10 year period. In addition, a well functioning ecosystem, i.e., forests and wetlands, can provide many services critical to the production of pure drinking water within reservoir catchment areas. The capacity of an ecosystem to continually generate such services has been recognized as a key component of integrated water resource management policy. After the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1986, the City was faced with the choice of protecting the ecosystem services provided by the Catskill-Delaware Watershed area (which provides 90% of its water) or building a 2.5 billion gallon per day water filtration facility with a construction cost of $4-6 billion and a yearly operating cost of $100-200 million. City decision makers opted for investing $1.5 billion over a ten year period in watershed/ecosystem protection. Protection initiatives included: land acquisition, the enhancement of existing and the construction of new watershed sewage treatment/stormwater management infrastructure, the establishment of economic-environment partnership programs, as well as the initiation of programs to improve farm and forestry practices to reduce water pollution. The implementation of adaptive management strategies to control reservoir releases to address the preservation of water supply storage, adequate tailwater fisheries releases, and assist with downstream flood-loss reduction were also critical to the City's balancing of it's water supply needs. Finally, the resolution of Federal Clean Water Act litigation concerning a turbid water discharge from a transfer tunnel made additional water supply available into the future.
2011 IWRA - International Water Resources Association - - Admin