When New Yorkers think of the Catskills, they tend to think of summer weekends of cooling mountain breezes, fresh tomatoes and increasingly expensive real estate. Less often pondered is the fact that the city gets 90 percent of our water supply from reservoirs in the region—close to a billion gallons a day. And what surrounds those reservoirs—whether open land or condo development—has a direct impact on the quality of the city’s drinking water.
For the past decade—most recently under the guidance of Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Emily Lloyd—the city has been steadily and aggressively acquiring land in the Catskill watershed, to protect our water source. And that decision paid off last week in a big way. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has granted the city a 10-year exemption from having to filter the Catskill water—a massive project that would have involved the construction of an $8 billion filtration plant, with millions of dollars of annual operating costs.
Clear water is a precious resource—one that cannot be easily regained once lost. Indeed, it wasn’t until the city had a safe, reliable source of drinking water that it could begin the expansion that led to New York becoming what it is today—one of the world’s great cities. New York remains one of the very few urban areas that do not have to filter most of its water, thanks to City Hall’s financial commitment to keeping the Catskills watershed free of pollution. For the 10 percent of the city’s water that comes from Westchester, a $2 billion filtration plant is being built in the Bronx. To keep the Catskills reservoirs from falling to a similar fate, the city has agreed to spend $300 million to purchase land and stave off development over the next decade—money well-spent when compared with the multibillion-dollar costs of filtration.
Much credit must go to the Bloomberg administration, and to the environmentalists who have kept pressure on the city to make sure our prime water source remains reliable, safe and secure.