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My Journey to Mid-town Earth for Water (Part I)

2011 August 30

By Elias Rodriguez

I am not a Hobbit, but I have travelled deep into the Earth in search of adventure, mystery and a look at how New York City is working to keep the population’s drinking water secure, safe and clean.

The two reservoir systems that supply the City drinking water are the Catskill/Delaware watershed west of the Hudson River and the Croton watershed east of the Hudson. Getting all that water, about 1.4 billion gallons a day, give or take a swiggle, to nine million thirsty people is a fluid feat.  In the Big Apple, a big part of the drinking water story is 800 feet underground, far beneath the pitter patter of pedestrians. The vital public works project, sight unseen, is City Water Tunnel No. 3.

At the invitation of New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, I had the opportunity to tour water tunnel No. 3, the largest capital construction project in New York City’s history. Water tunnel No. 3 will supplement the water supply currently provided by water tunnels No. 1 and No. 2.  Way back in 1954, the City envisioned the need to construct a third water tunnel for City residents. Thanks to years of intelligent infrastructure investments, actual construction of the water tunnel began in 1970. When completed in 2020, the 60 mile long tunnel will supply the City with drinking water from the Upstate watershed. For my fellow Public Administration aficionados, please note that City officials are spending money, OMG!, for something that will not produce revenue for 50 years.

EPA’s role in this liquid asset is to serve as the federal watchdog to ensure the quality of America’s drinking water. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, passed by Congress in 1974, we set standards for drinking water quality and oversee the states, localities and water suppliers that have the daily responsibility to provide and protect the drinking water supply.

After an extensive background check, security clearance and a safety briefing, my journey into mid-town Earth was about to begin….

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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