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2015 Water Resources Art & Poetry Contest Themes

The contest this year has four central themes as listed below. Entries can address one or more of the focus questions found below the themes, or an original idea that relates to NYC’s water resources. Click on the links below for more information or educational materials to help you incorporate a particular contest theme into your curriculum. Please email us at educationoffice@dep.nyc.gov if you have any questions.

Water - A precious resource

The New York City Water Supply System

The New York City Wastewater Treatment System

Stewardship and Climate Change - What I can do to help?

Water - A precious resource

  • Why is water valuable to us?
    • Water is valuable to us because it is the source of life for all living creatures, including humans. Our clean, reliable water supply is something many New Yorkers take for granted. But for hundreds of years, clean water was not a fact of life for the people of our city. In 1842, more than 150 years ago, clean water flowed for the first time from upstate reservoirs into New York City. Today, an amazing system of reservoirs and lakes, aqueducts, tunnels and water mains distributes about 1 billion gallons of water daily to nearly 9 million people. Throughout its history, New York City's ability to provide a reliable source of water for its citizens has allowed it to grow and develop into a great urban center.
    • Clean Drinking Water
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  • Why is it important to drink NYC water?
    • It’s Healthy: NYC Water helps you maintain a healthy weight because water contains zero calories, zero sugar and zero fat. A typical 12-ounce can of soda contains about 150 calories and the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar. Sports drinks, which are marketed as healthy alternatives, have as many calories as sugary beverages and usually contain high levels of sodium. Drinking just one 20 ounce soda a day translates to eating 50 pounds of sugar a year. Many of us consume too much sugar without realizing it. Sugar in sweetened drinks contains extra calories that can lead to obesity and diabetes. Drinking NYC water is not only good for you; it is a great alternative to sugary drinks and helps you stay in shape.
    • Why it is important to drink NYC water
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  • What are some reasons to drink tap water rather than bottled water?
    • It’s Healthy: NYC Water helps you maintain a healthy weight because water contains zero calories, zero sugar and zero fat. A typical 12-ounce can of soda contains about 150 calories and the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar. Sports drinks, which are marketed as healthy alternatives, have as many calories as sugary beverages and usually contain high levels of sodium.
    • It’s Affordable: NYC Water is a great deal. At approximately one penny per gallon, it is about 1,000 times less expensive than bottled water.
    • It’s Green: Plastic water bottles produced for the U.S. use 1.5 million barrels of oil a year—enough to power 250,000 homes or 100,000 cars all year. And it takes more than 3 liters of water to produce each bottled liter of water.
    • It’s Convenient: NYC tap water is available right from your tap. DEP’s Water-On-the-Go fountains also make tap water easy to get in public places in each of the five boroughs during the summer.
    • Learn more about Tap Water
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  • Why is Jamaica Bay important and how can we help protect it?
    • Jamaica Bay is a 31-square-mile water body with a broader watershed of approximately 142 square miles, which includes portions of Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau County. The bay is a diverse ecological resource that supports multiple habitats, including open water, salt marshes, grasslands, coastal woodlands, maritime shrublands, and brackish and freshwater wetlands. These habitats support 91 fish species, 325 species of birds, and many reptile, amphibian, and small mammal species.
    • Learn more about Jamaica Bay
    • A Teacher’s Guide to Education Opportunities in the Jamaica Bay Watershed
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The New York City Water Supply System

  • What is a watershed? How do the New York City watersheds supply us with water?
    • A watershed is a geographic area whose rainfall, snowmelt, streams and rivers all flow or drain into a common body of water, such as a reservoir, lake or bay. Ultimately, most watersheds in the U.S. drain into the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans or the Gulf of Mexico. Whether your drinking water comes from a surface supply—reservoirs, rivers or lakes—or underground sources called aquifers, everyone lives in a watershed. Water quality protection is important for all of us.
    • New York City’s drinking water supply comes from the Croton Watershed (East of Hudson) and from the Catskill/Delaware Watershed (West of Hudson). The New York City water supply system is comprised of 19 reservoirs and three controlled lakes which are located up to 125 miles from the City’s five boroughs and are interconnected by a complex series of tunnels and aqueducts.
    • Learn more about Watershed Protection
    • New York City's Water Supply System Map
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  • How did the New York City Water Supply System develop?
    • Early Manhattan settlers obtained water for domestic purposes from shallow privately-owned wells. In 1677 the first public well was dug in front of the old fort at Bowling Green. In 1776, when the population reached approximately 22,000, a reservoir was constructed on the east side of Broadway between Pearl and White Streets. Water pumped from wells sunk near the Collect Pond, east of the reservoir, and from the pond itself, was distributed through hollow logs laid in the principal streets. After exploring alternatives for increasing supply, the City decided to impound water from the Croton River, in what is now Westchester County, and to build an aqueduct to carry water from the Old Croton Reservoir to the City. This aqueduct, known today as the Old Croton Aqueduct, had a capacity of about 90 million gallons per day (mgd) and was placed in service in 1842. The distribution reservoirs were located in Manhattan at 42nd Street (discontinued in 1890) and in Central Park south of 86th Street (discontinued in 1925). New reservoirs were constructed to increase supply.
    • In 1883 a commission was formed to build a second aqueduct from the Croton watershed as well as additional storage reservoirs. This aqueduct, known as the New Croton Aqueduct, was under construction from 1885 to 1893 and was placed in service in 1890, while still under construction. The present water system was consolidated from the various water systems in communities now consisting of the boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. In 1905 the Board of Water Supply was created by the State Legislature. After careful study, the City decided to develop the Catskill region as an additional water source. The Board of Water Supply proceeded to plan and construct facilities to impound the waters of the Esopus Creek, one of the four watersheds in the Catskills, and to deliver the water throughout the City. This project, to develop what is known as the Catskill System, included the Ashokan Reservoir and Catskill Aqueduct and was completed in 1915. In 1927 the Board of Water Supply submitted a plan to the Board of Estimate and Apportionment for the development of the upper portion of the Rondout watershed and tributaries of the Delaware River within the State of New York. This project was approved in 1928. Work was subsequently delayed by an action brought by the State of New Jersey in the Supreme Court of the United States to enjoin the City and State of New York from using the waters of any Delaware River tributary.
    • In May 1931, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the right of the City to augment its water supply from the headwaters of the Delaware River. Construction of the Delaware System began in March 1937. The Delaware System was placed in service in stages: The Delaware Aqueduct was completed in 1944, Rondout Reservoir in 1950, Neversink Reservoir in 1954, Pepacton Reservoir in 1955 and Cannonsville Reservoir in 1964.
    • Today, water for New York City is impounded in three upstate supply systems which include 19 reservoirs and three controlled lakes with a total storage capacity of approximately 580 billion gallons.
    • Learn more about New York City’s Water Supply System
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  • Where does New York City’s drinking water come from?
  • How do well-managed forests keep water clean?
    • The quality of our source waters in the Catskill and Delaware watersheds depends on the health and vitality of upstate forests. Because forests cover more than 75% of the 1.2 million acres in the New York City watershed area, poorly managed forests can increase the amount of nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorous, that enter our water supply and degrade overall water quality.
    • Learn more about Forest Management
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  • How is water distributed throughout New York City? What is City Water Tunnel No. 3?
    • Water is distributed by tunnels in New York City. Tunnel No. 1 was put into service in 1917 and Tunnel No. 2 in 1936 City Tunnel No. 3 is a project that will allow for the inspection and repair of City Tunnels No. 1 and 2.
    • City Tunnel No. 3 is the largest capital construction project in New York City’s history, and is one of the world’s engineering marvels. Construction began in 1970 and is expected to be completed in 2020 at a total cost of $5.5 to $6 billion. The tunnel is being built in four Stages and, when completed, will total more than 60 miles in length.
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  • Why are the historic High Bridge and Central Park Reservoir important?
    • The High Bridge is New York’s oldest standing bridge and the most celebrated part of the famed Old Croton Aqueduct. Since 2001, the High Bridge Coalition has led a campaign to give this pedestrian bridge, a city and national landmark, new life as a great public space and greenway link. Work is underway to:
      • re-establish The High Bridge as a popular destination, a unique interborough crossing, and the Manhattan-Bronx link in the Old Croton Aqueduct Greenway
      • tell the story of the bridge's historic and cultural significance
      • improve the Bronx and Manhattan parks that serve as neighborhood gateways to the bridge
      • increase public waterfront access to the Harlem River
    • Learn more about the High Bridge
    • The Central Park Reservoir was renamed the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in 1994, after the widow of the late President John F. Kennedy and Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. When originally constructed in 1862 it was called Lake Manahatta. It served as additional storage for the nearby 35-acre Yorkville Reservoir built by the City as a distributing reservoir for the Croton water supply system, New York’s first out-of-city water supply system located in Westchester County. Today the Central Park Reservoir plays an important role in the City’s ecology. Woodchucks, turtles, waterfowl – including the rare double-breasted cormorants - and many fish species make the Reservoir home. Plant life such as cattails, sumac, maples and elms, as well as cherry trees that were a gift from the Japanese, are also visible around the Reservoir.
    • Learn more about the Central Park Reservoir
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  • What do scientists, engineers and other staff do to make sure our water is safe to drink?
    • The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) presents an Annual Water Supply and Quality Report. This report is prepared in accordance with the New York State Sanitary Code, and the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations, promulgated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The regulations require all drinking water suppliers to provide the public with an annual statement describing the sources and quality of its water supply. Water quality results and water quality testing is presented in this report.
    • Learn more about Safe Drinking Water
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  • How much water do you use daily?
  • How are trout good indicators of clean water?
    • Trout are indicators of clean water because they are very sensitive to changes in their environment. A change in water temperature, water clarity, dissolved oxygen, ammonia levels and pH could adversely impact trout populations and their survival.
    • Learn more about Trout
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  • How do watershed farmers help protect water quality?
    • Farmers help protect water quality by utilizing best management practices that do not release agricultural pollutants such as pathogens, nutrients, and sediment into nearby streams that feed reservoirs. They can also protect water quality by having a strong knowledge and understanding regarding animal health, nutrient management, and other agricultural topics.
    • Learn more about How Farmers can Help Protect Water Quality
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  • What is Water for the Future?

The New York City Wastewater Treatment System

  • What happens to the water we use after it goes down the drain?
    • Used water goes into New York City’s extensive wastewater treatment system. This amazing network system that cleans our wastewater consists of: over 7,400 miles of sewer pipes; 135,000 sewer catch basins; over 495 permitted outfalls for the discharge of combined sewer overflows (CSOs); 95 wastewater pumping stations that transport it to 14 wastewater treatment plants located throughout the five boroughs.
    • Learn more about New York City Wastewater Treatment System
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  • How do New York City’s wastewater treatment plants work?
    • Wastewater treatment plants, also called sewage treatment plants or water pollution control plants, remove most pollutants from wastewater before it is released to local waterways. At the plants, physical and biological processes closely duplicate how wetlands, rivers, streams and lakes naturally purify water. Treatment at these plants is quick, taking only about seven hours to remove most of the pollutants from the wastewater. In the natural environment this process could take many weeks and nature alone cannot handle the volume of wastewater that New York City produces. At the City’s wastewater treatment plants, wastewater undergoes five major processes: preliminary treatment, primary treatment, secondary treatment, disinfection and finally, sludge treatment. Primary and secondary treatments remove about 85% to 95% of pollutants from the wastewater before the treated wastewater is disinfected and discharged into local waterways. Sludge, the byproduct of the treatment process, is digested for stabilization and is then dewatered for easier handling. The resulting material, known as biosolids, is then applied to land to improve vegetation or processed further as compost or fertilizer.
    • Learn more about New York City’s Wastewater Treatment Plants
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  • What is the Newtown Creek Nature Walk?
    • The Newtown Creek Nature Walk is a quarter–mile public walkway along Newtown Creek. The Nature Walk was designed by environmental sculpture artist George Trakas and built by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) through the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs Percent for Art program in conjunction with DEP's ongoing upgrade of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP). The walk affords visitors a unique view of its settling tanks and digesters, and is a good place to explore and learn about wastewater treatment, harbor water quality, and the history of New York City
    • Learn more about Newtown Creek Nature Walk
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  • What is the Staten Island Bluebelt and why is it important?
    • The Staten Island Bluebelt is an award winning, ecologically sound and cost-effective storm water management for approximately one third of Staten Island’s land area. The program preserves natural drainage corridors, called Bluebelts, including streams, ponds, and other wetland areas. Preservation of these wetland systems allows them to perform their functions of conveying, storing, and filtering storm water. In addition, the Bluebelts provide important community open spaces and diverse wildlife habitats. The Bluebelt program saves tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure costs when compared to providing conventional storm sewers for the same land area. This program demonstrates how wetland preservation can be economically prudent and environmentally responsible.
    • Learn more about Staten Island Bluebelt
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  • Why do we need to keep storm drains clear and litter off our streets?
    • It is important to keep storm drains clear and litter off of our streets because litter in the street can be washed into the City’s storm drains (catch basins) when it rains. But during heavy rainstorms, floatables can be discharged into the surrounding waters if water flow into treatment plants exceeds treatment capacity. Floatables are water-borne litter and debris. They come mainly from street litter that ends up in the City's storm drains (catch basins) and sewers. Floatables can be discharged into the surrounding waters during certain rain events when water flow into treatment plants exceeds treatment capacity.
    • Learn more about Keeping NYC Water Clean
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  • What are combined sewer overflows (CSOs)?
    • Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) happen when a wastewater treatment plant or parts of the sewer get too full, usually when there’s a big rain event or snowstorm. When this occurs, wastewater is sent straight into our waterways, without being treated. DEP supplies an online waterbody advisory application to see how rainfall has impacted NYC waterways.
    • Learn more about Combined Sewer Overflows
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  • How has harbor water quality changed throughout the last 100 years?
    • New York Harbor is making a comeback and the signs are all around. According to the city's most recent Harbor Survey Report, the Harbor is cleaner now than at any time in the last 100 years. Continued improvements to sewage handling and treatment are chiefly responsible for continued improvements to water quality, which have led to increased recreational opportunities such as swimming and fishing. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection conducts numerous programs designed to maintain this trend. DEP operates 14 sewage treatment plants that together treat around 1.3 billion gallons of sewage each day, and the agency also employs a fleet of boats that are used to monitor the waters and the shoreline for water quality and sources of pollution.
    • Learn more about Water Quality Throughout the Last 100 Years
    • Learn more about New York City’s Harbor Water Quality
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Stewardship and Climate Change - What I can do to help?

  • How can we conserve water in our everyday lives?
    • We can conserve water on a daily basis in many simple ways.
    • Taking short showers can save 5 to 7 gallons a minute.
    • Repairing leaky faucets and turning taps off tightly. A slow drip wastes 15 to 20 gallons each day.
    • Installing water-saving toilets, showerheads and faucet aerators. Place a plastic bottle filled with water in your toilet tank if you can’t switch to a low-flow toilet.
    • Using a self-closing nozzle on your hose.
    • Learn more about Water Conservation Do’s and Don’ts
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  • How can we help reduce the amount of stormwater in our sewers?
    • We can help reduce the amount of stormwater in our sewers by installing Bioswales. Runoff from the street is diverted by curb cut and routed into this bioswale, where specially engineered soils and native plant species are used to absorb water and filter associated pollutants. In some bioswales, storage chambers hold additional runoff, available for plant uptake or groundwater recharge.
    • Learn more about Bioswales
    • We can help reduce the amount of stormwater in our sewers by using rain barrels. Rain barrels capture stormwater from your roof and store it for future use such as watering your lawn or garden. Rain barrels connect directly to your existing downspout, so that as soon as the barrel is full, the excess stormwater drains normally to the city’s sewer system.
    • Learn more about Rain Barrels
    • We can help reduce the amount of stormwater in our sewers by installing Blue and Green roofs. Installing source controls on existing rooftops is an important strategy that DEP is pursuing to reduce stormwater runoff from entering the sewers because rooftops comprise almost a third of New York City's total impervious surface area.
    • Learn more about Green and Blue Roofs
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  • What are green and blue roofs?
    • Green Roofs consist of a vegetative layer that grows in a specially-designed soil, which sits on top of a drainage layer. Green roofs are more costly than conventional roofs but they are capable of absorbing and retaining large amounts of stormwater. In addition, green roofs provide sustainability benefits such as absorbing air and noise pollution, rooftop cooling by reducing UV radiation absorption, creating living environments for birds, and increasing the quality-of-life for residents. The City provides a Green Roof Tax Abatement from City property taxes of $4.50 per square foot of green roof, up to $100,000.
    • Blue Roofs are non-vegetated source controls that detain stormwater. Weirs at the roof drain inlets and along the roof can create temporary ponding and gradual release of stormwater. Blue roofs are less costly than green roofs. Coupled with light colored roofing material they can provide sustainability benefits through rooftop cooling.
    • Learn more about Green and Blue Roofs
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    • Water and energy consumption are interdependent—the more water we use, the more energy we need, and vice versa. Approximately four percent of the nation’s electricity is used just for moving and treating drinking water and wastewater. Conversely, it takes 3,000 to 6,000 gallons of water annually to power just one 60-watt incandescent bulb for 12 hours per day. While New York City’s Water Supply System was engineered to rely heavily on the force of gravity to carry drinking water over 100 miles from watersheds to the city, NYC’s sewer pipes and wastewater treatment system require more than gravity alone to transport and treat used water. Due to the immense energy exerted to transport and treat wastewater, NYC DEP’s 14 wastewater treatment plants and 96 pumping stations throughout the city contribute to one of the largest municipal energy uses. It is important to be aware of your water and energy consumption and the link between them. Conserving energy conserves water and conserving water conserves energy.
    • Learn more about DEP’s Energy Policy and Planning
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  • How can we help protect watersheds?
  • What can we do to help keep harbor water clean?
  • What is the best way to dispose of household grease?
    • Cooking grease poured into a kitchen drain clogs pipes in your home and city sewers. Clogged sewer lines cause sewage backups into your home and neighborhood. Clogged sewer lines can also cause sewage to be released into city waterways, harming water quality and the environment.
    • In order to prevent grease clogs:
    • Don’t pour oil or grease down the drain
    • Don’t wash cooking oil or grease from dishes, pots and pans down the drain
    • Do place cooled cooking oil, grease and fat in sealed containers and discard with your regular garbage.
    • Do dry wipe oil and grease off dishes, pots and pans with a paper towel before washing; then discard paper towels in trash.
    • Do scrape food scraps from dishes into trash and dispose of properly.
    • Learn more about Grease Disposal
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  • What are fire hydrants for and why must they be used properly?
    • Fire hydrants are used for fire prevention. They allow fire-fighters to access water in order to stop fires.
    • Opening fire hydrants without sprinkler caps is wasteful and dangerous. Illegally opened hydrants can lower water pressure, which can cause problems at hospitals and other medical facilities and hinder fire-fighting by reducing the flow of water to hoses and pumps. Children can also be at serious risk, because the powerful force of an open hydrant without a sprinkler cap can push them into oncoming traffic.
    • Hydrants can be opened legally if equipped with a City-approved sprinkler cap. One illegally opened hydrant wastes up to 1,000 gallons of water per minute, while a hydrant with a sprinkler cap only puts out around 25 gallons per minute. Visit your local firehouse to have a sprinkler cap installed.
    • Learn more about Fire Hydrants
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  • What is climate change?
    • Climate change is the rise of average temperature around the world. In New York City, mean annual temperature has increased 4.4°F from 1900 to 2011. Rising global temperatures have also been accompanied by other changes in weather and climate. Many places are now experiencing changes in rainfall resulting in more intense rain and droughts, as well as more frequent and severe heat waves. The planet's oceans and glaciers have also experienced changes: oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, ice caps are melting, and sea levels are rising. All of these changes are evidence that our world is getting warmer and climates are changing. Over the last century, NYC has seen an average annual precipitation increase of 7.7 inches and a rise in sea level of 1.1 feet. Coastal storms like Hurricane Sandy are not the only threats New York City faces; other “extreme” events such as heavy rains, heat waves, droughts, and high winds also leave the city more vulnerable. Chronic conditions, such as rising sea levels, higher average temperatures, and increased annual precipitation have direct impacts on New York City and can make the effects of extreme events worse.
    • Learn more about the concepts of climate change
    • Learn more about the impacts to NYC
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  • What is the greenhouse effect?
    • Naturally occurring greenhouse gases (GHGs), such as water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), play a critical role in determining the Earth's temperature. Thermal energy from the sun passes through the atmosphere towards the surface of the Earth; most of it is absorbed and then heats the Earth. The Earth's surface then emits heat in the form of infrared radiation back to the atmosphere, some of which is lost to space and some of which remains in the atmosphere. The GHGs naturally occurring in the atmosphere redirect some of this infrared radiation back to the Earth, which has an additional warming effect and helps maintain the planet's habitability. However, with an increase in GHG emissions like carbon dioxide and methane, more of the reflected energy is absorbed and redirected toward Earth, dramatically increasing Earth’s temperature. This process is commonly known as the “greenhouse effect.”
    • Learn more
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  • Who and what is causing climate change?
    • The Earth does go through natural cycles of warming and cooling, caused by factors such as changes in the sun or volcanic activity. However, the warming we have seen in the past 50 years cannot be explained by natural factors alone. It is human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels and land use changes that have produced unprecedented quantities of heat-trapping GHGs, which are contributing to climate change. The majority of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are from energy use for electricity, heating, and transportation. Such everyday activities as turning on the lights, running the faucet, and traveling to school, not only use energy, but also contribute to the need for the mass burning of fossil fuels needed for power plants, large scale buildings and construction, motor vehicles and mass transit, and wastewater treatment.
    • Learn more about an interactive map of climate change in NYC
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  • How does climate change affect the water cycle?
    • As climate change warms the atmosphere and alters the hydrological cycle, we will continue to witness changes to the amount, timing, form, and intensity of precipitation and the flow of water in watersheds. We will also see changes in the quality of aquatic and marine environments. These changes are also likely to affect the practices designed to protect the quality of water resources and public health.
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  • What are the risks that climate change poses to our water supply and wastewater treatment systems?
    • In NYC, increased precipitation events are a major impact of climate change. Increased intensity and frequency of rainfall can result in flooding and Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) events, which will release a greater amount of untreated wastewater directly into our local waterways. The change in precipitation patterns will affect the flow of water within the watersheds, altering and limiting the amount and quality of water we have access to. A changing climate will also impact the complex web of life, functionality, and productivity within forests; such invaluable forest habitats make up 75% of NYC’s watersheds and play an important role in protecting the quality of water. Also, as temperatures rise, farms and fisheries will likely face increasing problems with productivity, potentially damaging livelihoods and the regional economy.
    • Learn more about the impacts to NYC
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  • How can I adapt to effects climate change may have on our water supply?
    • Whether climate change is increasing or decreasing rainfall in your area, the most important thing you can do is to start or continue to conserve water and energy. Using less water alleviates the pressure that a drought places on the water supply as well as alleviating the pressure on treatment plants and reducing the amount of untreated water entering our waterways through CSO events.
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  • Are concepts of STEM present at DEP?
    • Concepts of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) are present at DEP in both careers and projects. Engineers and scientists are crucial to providing clean and safe water. Scientists are responsible for studying water quality and researching new techniques that will improve NYC’s Water Supply System and local waterways. Engineers are responsible for taking that information and developing it into tangible solutions for the city’s infrastructure. In order to adapt to a changing climate, scientists and engineers at DEP have been working on new ways to protect our water supply and become more resilient by implementing sustainable practices in our watershed and at wastewater treatment plants. Planners and engineers are designing ways to reduce the amount of water we use every day. Engineers are working to repair a large leak in the Delaware Aqueduct. Low-flush toilets in public schools, more efficient shower heads in parks, and an improved leak detection program are additional examples. Engineered green infrastructure contributes to managing stormwater, reducing Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) events, and mitigating the effects of increased precipitation events caused by climate change, which will aid in protecting our local waterways.
    • Learn More about DEP careers
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Did You Know?