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EPA Order Against NYC Points Out Need to Filter Croton Water Supply

Release Date: 01/24/2003
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(#03005) New York, N.Y. -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued an administrative order to the City of New York for failing to provide timely public notification of a drinking water violation in the Croton Water System. The violation is similar to one that occurred earlier in 2002. The City did recently take steps to comply with the federal public notification requirements; EPA has not assessed a monetary penalty. The Agency has, however, required the City to mail a notice of the violation to affected bill-paying New Yorkers whose water comes from the Croton system, and to inform all other affected customers through other means.

Under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, New York City's drinking water must be monitored regularly to ensure that it meets all federal health requirements, including turbidity or "cloudiness." In August 2002, the City reported that the monthly average for turbidity for water from the Croton watershed exceeded EPA's public health standard. At that time, the City was experiencing a drought and had to use the Croton supply even though the water was not of optimal quality. There were numerous complaints from consumers about discolored tap water when this occurred. Under the law, the City must, within 30 days, inform affected customers any time their water exceeds federal drinking water standards. In this case, the City failed to do so. Harmful organisms could be present in water with high turbidity, and particles suspended in the water may reduce the effectiveness of chlorine, which is used as a disinfectant. The City also violated the turbidity standard for the Croton system in January 2002, and did not provide notification of that violation.

The violations demonstrate the need to filter water from the Croton system. The City is currently designing a filtration plant for the Croton, and when it is built, it will virtually eliminate turbidity and enable the City to utilize the Croton supply whenever it needs it particularly in times of drought.

"The federal law on public notifications was put into place because people have a right to know the condition of the water coming out of their taps," said Jane M. Kenny, EPA Regional Administrator. "While steps have been taken to rectify the situation, EPA will continue to monitor the City's water quality data to ensure that New Yorkers are notified of any future violations. The best way to avoid such violations, however, is to filter the Croton supply."

New York City gets its drinking water from two sources: the Croton watershed, consisting of reservoirs in Westchester and Putnam counties; and the Catskill/Delaware watershed, consisting of reservoirs in a number of more rural counties further upstate. The Safe Drinking Water Act requires systems like New York City's to be filtered, unless EPA finds compelling reason why they may not be. EPA recently granted an extension to the City to avoid filtering water from the Catskill/Delaware watershed, because the City has a successful watershed protection program in the upstate counties that house this system.

Under the provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the City was required to filter the Croton system by 1993. EPA strongly believes that filtration is necessary because the Croton reservoirs are located in areas that are densely populated, and are vulnerable to contamination. Since the City failed to filter the Croton by 1993, a consent decree was reached between the City, State and federal government in 1998, which required the City to build a filtration plant according to a set time frame. After delays and enforcement actions, in mid-2002, the City agreed to do preliminary designs for the filtration plant for two possible locations: along the Harlem River in the Bronx; and in Eastview inWestchester County. If the City chooses to place the plant in Eastview, it must be on-line by September 30, 2010. If the City chooses the Harlem River site, the plant must be on-line by October 31, 2011.

The City has complied with the administrative order and mailed a public notification of the turbidity violations to bill- paying customers. It has also informed its other customers by taking out newspaper ads that reached a mass audience. Additionally, the City has mailed the notices and the public notification is now posted at Exit EPA disclaimerunder the "Public Notices."

The order also requires the City to provide timely notification of any other drinking water violations in the future. Should the City violate EPA's order, it could be liable for penalties up to $27,500 per day of noncompliance.