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EPA Fines New York City for Drinking Water Violations

Release Date: 05/01/2006
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(NEW YORK, NY) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that New York City must pay a fine of $27,500 for failing to meet drinking water standards in a portion of the Catskill/Delaware water supply. The city is required to maintain strict water quality standards, including those related to turbidity, a measure of water clarity and an important indicator of water quality. During the past year, the city’s Catskill/Delaware water has failed or nearly failed turbidity standards on four separate occasions.

“While New York City has done a good job in protecting the Catskill/Delaware watershed, it must step up its efforts to control turbidity,” said EPA Regional Administrator Alan J. Steinberg. “In order to preserve a high degree of water quality, the city must demonstrate greater care than demonstrated in this case. Part of the rationale for New York City receiving a federal waiver from the requirement to filter is that it would maintain water quality standards. We will ensure that the city remains vigilant and proactive in the protection of this vital watershed.”

Turbidity occurs when clay, sand, algae, microbes and other substances suspend in water. Higher turbidity levels can lead to increased water temperature and reduce the amount of dissolved oxygen, a key component of aquatic life and water quality. Although turbidity is not a direct indicator of health risk, there is a relationship between turbidity and the ability of chlorine to kill harmful microorganisms. The particles that cause turbidity may capture and hide, or mask, contaminants, which are harmful to human health, and may reduce the effectiveness of disinfection. The Catskill/Delaware watershed is prone to turbidity due to its underlying geology and, therefore, warrants careful attention in order to maintain high water quality standards.

All drinking water taken from surface water sources must, under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, be filtered to remove microbial contaminants. The law allows EPA to grant a waiver from this requirement to water suppliers if they demonstrate that they have an effective watershed control program and that their water meets strict quality standards.

EPA can, at any time, require the city to filter its system if the Agency determines that the quality of the drinking water is threatened. The city appears to be adequately protecting the Catskill/Delaware drinking water source for the time being. The city is under a filtration avoidance determination (FAD) issued in 2002 for New York City’s Catskill/Delaware system, which allows it not to filter drinking water from this system. EPA does not expect to make any filtration decisions until the current FAD expires in 2007.

Additional information on New York City's watershed and water supply: