Public Water in New York City
With a population estimated to be greater than nine million by 2020, New York is the largest city in the United States of America.
Every day, more than one billion gallons of fresh, clean water makes it way to millions of faucets throughout the city. Delivered from upstate reservoirs, the water is world-renowned for its quality and delivery, traveling upwards of 125 miles through the state.
From Native Americans, known as the Lenape people, to the first Dutch settlement of the late 17th century and up to modern Americans, the desirable location has been an important fixture for more than a millennium, especially as a major natural harbor.
Throughout its fascinating history, New York has coped with dramatic population surges and the associated concerns, particularly regarding the transportation of tap water.
As major development kicked off in the 1800’s, the population was nearing one hundred thousand inhabitants during the first few decades. Since then, it has seemed the city has effectively balanced the water consumption needs and safety concerns of a metropolitan area that has gained tens of millions of individuals over the past two hundred years.
It’s important to note that the prime location of the five boroughs (which include the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island) is one of the main reasons for this feat. As part of the natural harbor already mentioned, this has helped keep the public water system pretty simple, when compared to other cities in North America which utilize heavy energy.
In New York, approximately 95% of the total water supply is delivered to consumers by gravity. As a result, only 5% of water is pumped to maintain desired pressure, which significantly lowers the cost.
In addition to the ideal location, there are other aspects in which public water has evolved over the years. It’s definitely come a long way since 1677, when the first public well was dug in lower Manhattan. Let’s see how it developed and what’s planned for the city:
At the start of the 19th century, some New Yorkers, most of whom were concentrated at the southern tip of Manhattan, began to receive their water through wooden mains. The water was supplied from a reservoir on nearby Chambers Street.
Around the 1830’s, water began to be circulated within 12-inch cast iron pipes. However, as the source of water came from a well, it continued to get increasingly polluted as the population swelled. Eventually, it was deemed insufficient and discontinued due to safety (for fears of yellow fever and cholera). As a result, the Croton Aqueduct was proposed.
Constructed between 1837 and 1842, this was one of the first aqueducts in the United States. Once finalized, water was carried from the Croton River, about 40 miles north, in Westchester County. Placed in service after completion in 1842, it noted a capacity of 90 million gallons per day, with distribution reservoirs located near Central Park.
From there, the New Croton Aqueduct was opened in 1890 (while still under final construction), but the former (by then known as the “Old Croton Aqueduct”) remained in service until 1955.
By the end of the 1800’s, the population had swelled to close to over three million, assisted by the many immigrants who relocated to New York during this era.
The aqueducts were efficient, but more were needed in order to deal with the demand of further population increases.
In 1905, the Board of Water Supply was established by the State Legislature of New York State. It was decided that the Catskill region would be developed by the city for their water needs. Years later, in 1915, the Catskill System was finished, allowing the city to increase distribution.
In the late 1930’s, this was joined by the Delaware System, which was placed in service in stages: The Delaware Aqueduct in 1944, Rondout Reservoir in 1950, Neversink Reservoir in 1954, Pepacton Reservoir in 1955 and the Cannonsville Reservoir in 1964.
These systems were built with interconnected capabilities that allowed for an increase of flexibility in order for the specific areas to deal with the water consumption needs at the time. This helped deal with any type of drought or an excess water in the watersheds.
The end of the 1900’s (especially the 1980’s and 1990’s) saw a rise in activism, especially as residents realized there was increasingly need for their water to be treated. This was coupled by fears of crumbling infrastructure nationwide, which was rated a grade of “D” by the American Society of Civil Engineers, which has tracked infrastructure since the late 1980’s.
In 1997, a water-sampling system was put into place, allowing officials to test the water at close to one thousand locations around New York. It’s reported that fifty of these locations are tested each day, in order to provide ongoing insight about water that could potentially harm. This was also the same year that New York demanded protection for the various watersheds of the city.
When referencing the turn of the last century, one can see the drastic development of the public water system in New York.
What started as one public well in lower Manhattan in the late 1600’s developed into a system that has a total capacity of approximately 580 billion gallons.
This includes almost two dozen reservoirs and three controlled lakes, mostly in upstate New York. Due to the age of the system overall, the city has also dealt with leaking concerns during the new millennium, which has resulted in a loss of 36 million gallons of water per day. At a cost of $240 million in 2008, a five-year plan was implemented to correct the leakage.
In 2013, UV facility filtration was added for further disinfection (the largest in the world) and in 2018, a one billion dollar investment was announced to protect the integrity of public water in New York, which highlights that while the city is a leader for tap water, it’s not indestructible or escapable from the concerns that haunt public water distribution around the world.
Although the history of public water in New York is interesting, it’s also a unique story. Around the world, there are billions of people who go without tap water each day. And for those who do have access to public water systems, they are often lacking treatment procedures to remove contaminants, putting them at risk for various sickness and developmental diseases.
At Mitte, we take the fear out of consuming water.
We are thankful for the developments in tap water that have been made over hundreds of years. We respect this history, but our team has developed the technology to provide mineralized water for all, personalised to the wants and needs of their body, allowing for people to take educated steps about the water they consume.