New York City’s water comes from the largest unfiltered system in the country thanks to pristine sources upstate. But for how long? There’s valuable natural gas trapped in the rocks under the watershed, and drilling for it could befoul the water. Meanwhile, a dwarf mussel is threatened by our thirst, and there’s global warming …
1842: The year the city built the first, 30-mile aqueduct. for years, one primary water supply had been the often-tainted 48-acre “Collect Pond,” just west of today’s Chinatown, fed by an underground spring.
Threat 1: Natural-Gas “Fracking”
To get gas out, high-pressure liquid is pumped into shale, cracking open fissures that allow the gas to escape. Is it safe?
Threat 2: Climate Change
During 2001’s drought, the city’s reservoirs dwindled below half-capacity, and temperatures are only expected to increase.
Threat 3: The Dwarf Wedge Mussel
Some city water comes from the Upper Delaware River; activists say this reduces its flow, which raises its temperature enough to threaten the endangered mussel.
They’re considering litigation that could turn it into the “Delta Smelt of the East,” as one official puts it (referring to a vicious, smelt-related water fight in California), possibly reducing the city’s draw from the Delaware.
$2.7 billion: Cost of filtering plant for the city’s oldest reservoirs.
$6 billion: Cost of new water tunnel (that’s been under construction for 40 years) to supplement the current two (one of which could collapse).
Another option: tap aquifers beneath the city itself.