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EPA Grants NYC a New Waiver from Filtering Most of Its Drinking Water Supply; City to Expand Watershed Protections, Benefitting Upstate Environment and Economy

Release Date: 11/26/2002
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(#02123) New York, N.Y. – With New York City’s largest drinking water reservoir in the background, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Jane M. Kenny today signed and presented New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg with an agreement that waives the federal requirement to filter drinking water from the Catskill/Delaware watershed. Last granted in 1997, EPA’s waiver from filtration required the city to undertake far-reaching watershed protection measures according to a set timetable. Today’s waiver extension calls for these protections to be significantly enhanced and expanded. The result will be a safer water supply for millions of New Yorkers and a cleaner environment in the counties that are home to city drinking water reservoirs. Joining the Mayor and Regional Administrator to announce the agreement at the Ashokan Reservoir in Ulster County, New York were: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Erin M. Crotty; New York City Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Christopher O. Ward; Alan Rosa of the Catskill Watershed Corporation; and Richard Coombe of the Watershed Agricultural Council.

“Today’s action is only possible because of a remarkable partnership,” said EPA’s Kenny. “A partnership not only between EPA and the city, but between the city and all the communities in upstate New York whose water sources feed into the city’s reservoir system. This agreement truly helps everyone – those who live and work in the city and those upstate who benefit from a cleaner environment.”

"I thank the EPA for granting another 5-year Filtration Avoidance Determination to DEP, rewarding the City for its efforts to protect and improve water quality in the reservoirs and source waters of these beautiful watersheds," said Mayor Bloomberg. "The extension of the FAD will enable us to ensure the water supply serving nine million people in the New York City and the Metropolitan Region remains clean and healthy. This investment willallow the City to hold off on designing and building a multi-billion dollar filtration plant. At a time when the City is facing its most difficult financial crisis in decades, filtration avoidance proves that we can work together to creatively resolve issues of common concern and prevent unnecessary expenditures."

"Under the leadership of Governor George Pataki, the signing of the historic 1997 Watershed Agreement established unprecedented, long-term safeguards for the drinking water supply for nine million New Yorkers, while simultaneously protecting the economic vitality of the upstate Watershed communities," DEC Commissioner Erin M. Crotty said. "The State will continue to work in partnership with EPA, the City of New York, Watershed communities, and all stakeholders to build upon progress made under the Watershed Agreement to ensure that New Yorkers continue to have clean and healthy drinking water."

"Protecting the watershed, preserving the public health, and promoting economic development in upstate communities has required the balancing of numerous residential, agricultural, commercial, industrial, and recreational interests," said Commissioner Christopher O. Ward. "The key to the success of the watershed protection program has been the enormous support and commitment of the City's watershed partners, including the federal government, the State of New York, eight counties, dozens of towns and villages, organizations such as the Catskill Watershed Corporation, the Watershed Agricultural Council, the Coalition of Watershed Towns, and the Watershed Protection and Partnership Council."

All drinking water taken from surface water sources must, under the Surface Water Treatment Rule of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, be filtered to remove microbial contaminants. The law allows EPA to grant a waiver from this requirement to water suppliers if they demonstrate that they have an effective watershed control program and that their water meets strict quality standards. EPA granted such a waiver, called a Filtration Avoidance Determination (FAD), to New York City in 1997 for water coming from the Catskill/Delaware watershed, which provides 90% of the city’s drinking water. The FAD was predicated on the city’s implementation of a number of specific long-term watershed protection measures, which it agreed to undertake on a set schedule. In December 2001, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) submitted a revised long-term watershed protection plan to EPA, seeking a continued waiver. Based on a review of the plan and consideration of comments received from the public at meetings held in 2001 and from a public comment period this past summer, EPA has approved an extension of the FAD.

New York City’s revised watershed protection plan includes significant enhancements and expansions of already existing projects including:

    • extending funding to pay for approximately 300 septic system repairs a year in the watershed area and adding an operation and management component to the septic system program. Malfunctioning septic systems have been identified as a potential source of biological contaminants in the watershed;
    • completing the design and construction of an ultraviolet treatment facility to disinfect Catskill/Delaware water. The treatment, which will destroy a number of potential bacterial contaminants, will begin by August 2009;
    • completing upgrades to all wastewater treatments plants in the Catskill/Delaware watershed by end of 2004;
    • providing additional funding to build new wastewater treatment plants in Phoenicia and Prattsville;
    • funding a new community wastewater management program for five communities in which wastewater has a significant potential impact on Catskill/Delaware water;
    • continuing aggressive efforts to purchase land in the Kensico Reservoir basin;
    • providing new funding to identify communities in which stormwater runoff poses the greatest risks to reservoirs from particles, bacteria and excessive nutrients;
    • implementing a new program to reduce the turbidity of water flowing into the Ashokan Reservoir;
    • expanding the stream management program by funding additional stream restoration projects;
    • increasing enforcement coordination with New York State agencies to address stormwater runoff and wetlands violations;
    • expanding the city’s very successful waterfowl management program – now underway at only the Kensico Reservoir – to the West Branch, Rondout and Ashokan Reservoirs;
    • significantly expanding the existing Watershed Agricultural Program to small farms throughout the watershed, including those east of the Hudson River. The program strives to implement best management practices on farms to help reduce nonpoint source pollution from farm runoff;
    • similarly expanding the existing Watershed Forestry Program to the Croton watershed, east of the Hudson;
    • and increasing reporting to stakeholders on the progress being made to protect the watershed and on water quality analysis.
EPA’s Filtration Avoidance Determination and supporting documents may be found on the agency’s Web site.