New York's 'champagne tap water' under threat

Urban sprawl and climate change have combined to put yet another comforting certainty of American urban life at risk. New York City's tap water, held by admirers to be the "champagne of drinking waters", may now have to be filtered to protect its legendary purity.

Until now, New York has been able to avoid hugely expensive filtration plants thanks to a string of remarkably farsighted decisions during the 19th century. Instead of relying on dubious local water sources, the city fathers of the era invested in an elaborate system of reservoirs and aqueducts to collect water from pristine watershed areas upstate, and let gravity carry the pristine liquid south to the city itself.

Every day the network delivered 1.2 billion gallons of drinking water fit for the gods (at least in the opinion of boastful New Yorkers) to the eight million inhabitants of America's largest city.

The H20 that flowed out of taps in Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn would beat established mineral waters in blind tasting tests. It used to be shipped to other cities to make bagel and pizza dough - even to England, it is claimed, as an ingredient in the perfect cup of tea. But that may be true no longer.

In the early 1980s, the Croton segment - smallest and closest of the three segments into which the system serving New York is divided - had started to suffer from pollution caused by rapid suburban development, and a decision was taken to build a filtering plant, due for completion in 2009. Now, however, the two main systems - the Catskill and the Delaware - are also under threat. The culprit again is land development, but also the increasingly severe storms that many scientists attribute to climate change and global warming.

The storms have washed mud and clay into reservoirs and rivers, turning them a muddy brown in many places. In order to keep the tap water clear, the city authorities have had to add 16 tons of aluminium sulphate, known as alum, to the daily water delivery to keep down turbidity and meet federal government standards.

The added chemical does not change the taste of the water, but works by drawing tiny particles of impurity into heavier clumps. These settle before the water is distributed.

This stopgap solution cannot go on for ever, officials say. Storms grow steadily fiercer and sprawl continues to advance. Sooner or later, New York may be forced to join most other big cities and construct a filtration plant - costing anything up to $8bn (£4.3bn).

City officials say this should not be necessary. Plans are afoot to lower turbidity in two large upstate reservoirs. This was "not a problem as long as we are able to operate the system as it was designed", Steven Schindler, of the city's environmental protection department, told The New York Times. Among the measures envisaged are a new multilevel draw-off facility at one large reservoir. This would allow pure surface water to be fed into the system, while giving muddier water at lower depths more time to clear. In other places dams may have to be heightened, while the city will have to make land purchases to keep development at bay.

Over the past decade, New York has spent $1bn to protect water, to avoid being forced to build filtration plants. Officials insist this is still the cheaper solution.

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football Polish side was ejected from Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
news
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Junior Analyst - Graduate - 6 Month fixed term contract

£17000 - £20000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

SAS Business Analyst - Credit Risk - Retail Banking

£450 - £500 per day: Orgtel: SAS Business Analyst, London, Banking, Credit Ris...

Project Manager - Pensions

£32000 - £38000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone