The Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1986 required the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop criteria under which filtration would be required for public surface water supplies. In 1989, the EPA promulgated the Surface Water Treatment Rule, which requires all public water systems supplied by unfiltered surface water sources to either provide filtration or meet the following criteria to avoid filtration:
- Objective Water Quality Criteria:
- The water supply must meet certain levels for specific constituents including coliform bacteria, turbidity, and disinfection by-products.
- Operational Criteria:
- The system must demonstrate compliance with certain disinfection requirements for inactivation of Giardia (a pathogen) and viruses; maintain a minimum chlorine residual entering and throughout the distribution system; provide uninterrupted disinfection with redundancy; and undergo an annual on-site inspection by the primacy agency to review the condition of disinfection equipment.
- Watershed Control Criteria:
- The system must establish and maintain an effective watershed control program to minimize the potential for contamination of source waters by Giardia and viruses.
New York City first applied for a filtration waiver for the Catskill/Delaware system in 1991. DEP filed this initial application with the New York State Department of Health because at the time it was believed that the DOH had primary enforcement responsibility (primacy) for all water supply systems in the State. The DOH granted DEP a one-year filtration waiver, and subsequently it was determined that the EPA had retained primacy for the Catskill/Delaware systems.
In mid-1992, DEP submitted a thirteen-volume application to the EPA describing in detail the City’s plans for protecting the Catskill/Delaware water supply. In January 1993, the EPA issued a conditional determination granting filtration avoidance until December 31, 1993. This waiver incorporated many elements of the watershed program that DEP had described in mid-1992, and it was conditioned upon the City meeting 66 deadlines for identifying potential pollution sources, addressing existing sources of contamination, and developing programs to ensure long-term protection of the watershed. The EPA also imposed substantial reporting requirements on DEP to monitor the City’s filtration avoidance progress.
In September 1993, DEP submitted a second filtration avoidance application to the EPA. This application was based upon the knowledge gained through the City’s initiation of numerous watershed studies and programs, and it laid out a long-term strategy for protecting water quality in the Catskill/Delaware system. The EPA again determined that New York City’s watershed program met the criteria for filtration avoidance, although they did express concerns about the program’s ability to meet the criteria in the future. On December 30, 1993, EPA issued a second determination that contained 150 conditions related primarily to enhanced watershed protection and monitoring programs. The EPA also required the City to proceed with designing a filtration facility for the Catskill/Delaware water supply so that no time would be lost should filtration be deemed necessary in the future.
Two critical pieces of watershed protection that were incorporated into the EPA’s December 1993 Filtration Avoidance Determination were the implementation of a land acquisition program and the promulgation of revised watershed regulations. When both of these programs were quickly and vocally met with em objections from watershed residents about potential impacts to the rural character and economic viability of their communities, DEP was unable to move forward with implementing those key program elements.
It was against this backdrop that Governor Pataki convened a group of involved agencies and parties to negotiate an accord. These negotiations involved the City, State, EPA, and local representatives from watershed towns, counties, and environmental groups. In November 1995, the parties agreed to a conceptual framework by which the City could advance its watershed protection program while protecting the economic viability of watershed communities. It took another 14 months to hammer out the details of an agreement, and in January 1997 the parties signed the historic Watershed Memorandum of Agreement.
The MOA supplemented the City’s existing watershed protection program with approximately $350 million in additional funding for economic and environmental partnership programs with upstate communities, including a water quality investment program, a regional economic development fund, and a regional advisory group for water quality initiatives and watershed concerns. The State issued the City a watershed land acquisition permit and also approved revisions to the City’s Watershed Rules and Regulations governing certain land use activities in the watershed. The City secured another five-year FAD for the Catskill/Delaware system and agreed to implement significant watershed protection programs while providing funding to communities to maintain their character and economic viability.
In December 2001, near the end of the five-year FAD of 1997, DEP submitted a Long-Term Watershed Protection Plan which included significant enhancements to the overall watershed protection program. This resulted in the City securing another five-year FAD from the EPA in November 2002.
In March 2006, DEP submitted a Watershed Protection Program Summary and Assessment Report which served as a reference for discussing future programs and activities with the EPA, DOH, and other parties. DEP subsequently updated its Long-Term Watershed Protection Plan which was submitted to the EPA and DOH in December 2006 and was designed to outline specific watershed programs and activities for an additional five-year period. These documents resulted in the EPA and DOH issuing their July 2007 FAD for the Catskill/Delaware system covering the ten-year period 2007-2017.
In 2008, in response to new federal regulations which require public water supplies to provide enhanced disinfection treatment of drinking water, DEP began constructing an ultraviolet light disinfection facility at the City-owned Eastview site in Westchester County. When completed, this new UV facility will treat all water flowing from the Catskill/Delaware system and thereby provide an additional disinfection barrier against potentially harmful microbiological contaminants such as waterborne pathogens, bacteria and viruses. The Catskill/Delaware UV facility is scheduled to be completed and on line in 2012.
With respect to the Croton system, the City is proceeding with the construction of a filtration plant pursuant to the terms of a November 1998 federal court Consent Decree. The Croton filtration plant will ensure compliance with stricter water quality standards and is expected to reduce color levels, the risk of microbiological contamination, and disinfection byproduct levels in Croton water. In September 2004 the City issued a notice to proceed with the first phase of construction at the Mosholu Golf Course site in the Bronx. The second and third phases went forward in August 2006 and August 2007, respectively, with additional work progressing each year. The Croton Water Filtration Plant is expected to be operational by 2012.