Urban Waters – So Fresh and So Clean

By Kasia Broussalian

After nearly an hour of splashing through, around, and over the fountain in Washington Square Park, a young boy takes a break to “dry off,” as he termed it, on the side. Even at 9 a.m., the humidity and heat made the cool water a welcome relief.

Nearly 6,000 pipes, aqueducts, and tunnels carry roughly a billion gallons of water a day throughout the five boroughs of New York. To monitor the quality, the city has almost 1,000 sampling stations that test directly from the pipes. Scientists conduct more than 250,000 tests a year, looking over a spectrum of 250 possible contaminants.

Today, New York City’s water supply mainly comes from three systems to the north that together cover an area of 2,000 square miles—almost the size of the state of Delaware. The reservoirs created by the state over the past 200 years have a storage capacity of 550 billion gallons of water, and much of the water reaches homes and businesses in the city through pipes and gravity alone. Because the city’s watershed area remains one of the largest protected wilderness areas in the United States, the natural filtration process remains, making New York City one of five cities in the country with drinking water pure enough to only require chlorination to maintain purity from the tap in normal circumstances.