16, No. 4
Feb. 13 - 26, 2003
DEP Chief Set on Filtration Plant
By JORDAN MOSS
If opponents of a water filtration plant thought a new city administration would present a
better opportunity to press their case against the project, they were wrong.
At a community meeting organized by Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion at DeWitt
Clinton High on Jan. 31, DEP commissioner Christopher Ward made it clear that he is
strongly in favor of filtering the Croton water system, which provides the city with 10
percent of its water supply and up to 30 percent in times of drought.
The federal government and a federal judge have decided much the same thing and the city
agreed to build the plant by signing a consent decree in court. But anti-filtration activists
have long held that the city could avoid filtration by protecting the watershed upstate and
investing in natural methods of cleaning the water. They argue that the water meets
federal standards now, and that building a plant would actually encourage greater development and
pollution in the watershed.
Karen Argenti, a veteran activist who has become an expert on water issues, even went as far
as to say that she would arrest all recent DEP commissioners for failing to protect the
watershed, if she were so empowered.
Ward seemed to be presenting new information when he argued that problems with the
water could eventually cause bladder, colon, and rectal cancer and even have effects on a
woman's reproductive system.
Opponents of the plant weren't buying it. They came prepared with blue cards with the
word "false" written on them that they raised and fluttered in unison whenever they
didn't agree with Ward.
Argenti also urged the DEP to document why pursuing alternatives to filtration would not
work in a "no-build alternative" in the agency's draft environmental impact statement. "If
you're right, let's see it on a piece of paper!"
Ward said the court's insistence on filtration made such a study irrelevant.
Though many residents at the meeting have become advocates of avoiding filtration, they
first became active on the issue because they fear the project's impact on the Bronx. The
main site being considered by the city is along the Harlem River near Fordham Road. Just
like their neighbors to the north who defeated the city's plans to build the plant in the
Jerome Park Reservoir and later in Van Cortlandt Park, University Heights residents
contend that the construction of the plant will inundate the area with traffic and construction
dust, and exacerbate the already serious asthma problem in the community. They also
believe the plant will simply be unsightly at a time when the city is trying to reclaim its
waterfront for recreational use.
The residents were supported by several elected officials including State Senator Efrain
Gonzalez, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and Councilman Oliver Koppell. Though he
mostly played the role of facilitator, Carrion said at the beginning of the meeting, "If we can
avoid filtration, we ought to avoid filtration."
The meeting also brought out the construction unions who hope to benefit from the jobs the
plant's constrution would bring. Many times, the workers erupted into a chours of "Build it
In arguing for the project, many of the workers claimed the water they drank in their homes
was dirty, and Ward, to the surprise of some, said nothing in response.
Tommy McGuire, the leader of Local 15A, said he would be in favor of avoiding filtration
were that option possible. "But clearly if the project has to be built, it should be built in the
Bronx," he said.
Strangely, no one at the hearing mentioned that the city is also considering a more isolated
site it owns in the Westchester town of Eastview, perhaps because Ward insisted the
meeting was about the need for filtration, or maybe because the city has chosen Bronx sites
over Westchester sites twice before.
The city will issue its decision on siting on April 1. But if the past is any guide -- and there
were many people at Clinton who have sat through dozens of similar hearings on this issue
over at least the past decade -- that will by no means be the end of the filtration
Back to News
News | Opinion | Schools
| Features | Ongoing Story | Home
About Us | Past Issues