State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Keeping New York City Water Safe

As an Industrial Hygienist in the Department of Environmental Protection, I have the privilege of getting an inside view of parts of the incredibly large and intricate infrastructure needed to keep NYC afloat (bad pun only moderately intended). I intend to regularly post about New York City Water infrastructure; what the city is doing well, some of the challenges we face in maintaining and improving our water resources, and how our use can fit into the greater context of water related issues.

Everyday, New York City’s 8 million residents consume over one billion gallons of water; 80,000 gallons a year for your average family. What sort of assurances are provided that the water is safe from the reservoir to the tap?

The Division of Water Quality Operations, within the New York City Department of Environmental Protection works to test and prove that NYC water meets local, state and federal water regulatory standards.

Photo: Selim Tlili

Ever notice those gray locked boxes on the street?  Those boxes are drinking water sampling stations.  Every day, the water ecology team drives out from Queens to different parts of the city to collect water samples.

The water coming to these stations is exactly the same as water going into nearby residents homes.  The ecologists check the temperature, total chlorine levels and pH right on the spot. Additionally, When the DEP receives a water quality complaint, the ecologists collect water samples from the nearest sample station and, if given permission, from the residence for comparison.

Let’s take a day in Mike’s life: Mike, a water ecologist, is at the office by 6 AM.  He grabs his DEP vehicle keys and drives off to Staten Island.  By noon he’s collected a dozen samples from pre-determined sample stations.  Depending on traffic conditions, Mike is back at the office around noon.  He submits his samples to the collection room, where the data collection team will log the sample location and time of entry.

The next day, the chemists begin testing each sample for various potential contaminants such as; Lead, Nitrates, Sulfate, Dissolved solids, Zinc, Trihalomethanes and other contaminants. The results of the findings are submitted to the data collection team, which compiles the information for reporting purposes and for the Drinking Water Supply and Quality Report.

New York City DEP performs over 900 water tests every single day of the year, resulting in over 330,000 tests annually. The process of testing and ensuring that NYC water is clean is definitely an example of city government providing an important service and doing that work well.

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