Vol. 12, No. 7 April 8 - 21, 1999



     
 

A Filtration Primer

By JORDAN MOSS

What is the Croton Water Supply System?
New York City gets its water from three water systems -- Croton, Catskill and Delaware. Croton, which lies to the east of the Hudson, is the smallest and oldest of the three and supplies New York City with 10 percent of the city's average daily demand of 1.4 billion gallons per day and up to 30 percent in times of drought. The Croton is made up of 12 reservoirs and three controlled lakes on the Croton River and its tributaries and branches in Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess counties in New York and Fairfield County in Connecticut. Filtration is currently not required for the Catskill/Delaware system, which supplies the city with the remaining 90 percent of its waters supply.

Who Drinks Croton Water?
Nine million people in New York City and Westchester County. Croton water is mostly used in low-lying portions of the Bronx -- west of the Jerome Park Reservoir in Kingsbridge, and in portions of the south and east Bronx. Much of Manhattan's west side and large sections of its east side are also served by the Croton system. Because the Croton occasionally serves other portions of the city during droughts, the city believes it cannot afford to avoid filtration by "turning off" the Croton.

Who is requiring the city to filter the water and why?
In 1992, to comply with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, the city entered into a "Stipulation Agreement" with the New York State Department of Health to filter Croton water. The city had the opportunity to apply for filtration avoidance for the Croton. It didn't do so because, according to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) "there was consensus technical opinion that Croton water would require filtration." Though the watershed currently meets all health-based water quality regulations, it often violates the standards set for color, and is expected by regulators to violate new health-based standards for disinfection byproducts.

Because local officials took too long to pick a site for the filtration plant, the federal government took the city to court. The suit was settled last year and the city agreed to push forward with site selection, design and construction according to a strict timetable. Construction must begin by September 2001.

In light of this, is filtration avoidance still possible?
Depends on who you ask. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is unequivocal -- the city must filter and that's that, agency officials say. Though it is studying ways to avoid filtration, the DEP says it has no choice but to proceed according to the design and construction schedule dictated by the agreement it made with the federal government in court last year.

Some activists argue that if the DEP really wanted to it could convince the EPA to give it more time to study the possibility of avoiding filtration in the Croton.

Legislation, authored by Bronx Congressman Eliot Engel, would give New York City another chance to apply for a filtration avoidance under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Engel says the newest version of the bill has a better chance of passage because it is broader and less focused on New York than previous incarnations.

For more information on filtration avoidance, see article entitled Against the Clock, Activists Push for Filtration Avoidance..

Why are so many people opposed to filtration?
There are many reasons. Community residents fear a quality-of-life nightmare with increased noise, traffic, and dust during years of construction.

In the watershed towns upstate, many activists believe a filtration plant will open the doors to developers who will argue that pollution of the watershed will be "fixed" by the filtration plant downstream.

Filtration foes also point to the fallibility of what is essentially a giant machine and argue that there is no better filter than Mother Nature herself. They propose greater protections for the water system and enhancement of natural filtration systems like wetlands.

On the other side of the issue, the city's construction unions and contractor groups strongly support the project because of the jobs it will create.

Where is the city proposing to build the plant?
On Dec. 1, 1998, the city Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced its proposal to build a $660 million, 11-acre filtration plant at Mosholu Golf Course in Van Cortlandt Park (see map on opposite page). The choice was a surprise for a number of reasons: it was a last-minute add-on to the list of proposed sites last spring; there were seven other sites under consideration in the Bronx and Westchester, two of them in remote, industrial locations, and because the Jerome Park Reservoir has been in the city's sights for the plant for decades.

Is the Mosholu Golf Course site a done deal?
No. The authors of the City Charter and the voters who ratified it provided for a six-month land review process when any such project is proposed. The proposal, and that's all it technically is at this point, must climb a ladder from the lowest levels of city government to the highest. The plan has already been unanimously rejected by all three community boards surrounding Van Cortlandt Park and the borough board, which includes the Bronx City Council delegation, the borough president and the community board chairs. Next up is the City Planning Commission, which is where the city will probably score its first victory. The commission is weighted in favor of the mayor since he appoints seven of its members, including the chair. Six other members are appointed by the five borough presidents and the public advocate. If the commission votes for the proposal, the City Council will get to vote, because of the earlier "no" votes at the community board and borough levels. If the Council rejects the plan, the mayor can veto that vote, but the council can override the veto with a two-thirds vote of its members.

And if the proposal dies in the Council, it's back to the drawing board for the DEP. The agency will have to identify another site.

If the site is approved, community and parks organizations are considering lawsuits on the grounds of parks alienation and environmental justice.

Community activists are supported by virtually all of their city, state and federal representatives in their opposition to the plant.

Why didn't the city choose Jerome Park Reservoir?
Community opposition is widely credited. A stunning man-made lake surrounded by residences and schools, the Jerome Park Reservoir had a committed constituency fighting to protect it from the very beginning. Over several years, hundreds of meetings, protests, and rallies galvanized community sentiment in Kingsbridge Heights, Van Cortlandt Village, and later in Bedford Park, against the plant. Opponents believed the construction of the plant, involving digging, drilling, blasting, and hundreds of daily truck trips, would wreak havoc with the area's quality of life and destabilize a thriving community.

Why did it choose the Mosholu Golf Course?
According to the DEIS, construction at the golf course "would result in the least potential for significant impacts and there would be no significant impacts posed by the operation of the facilities." Many residents and elected officials, citing two Westchester sites on the DEP's list, disagree. The supervisors of the towns of Mt. Pleasant and Greenburgh expressed interest in hosting the plant at either of two remote sites separated by Route 100C. The sites are industrial plots formerly used by Union Carbide.

How long will the plant take to construct?
According to the milestone dates set forth in the Consent Decree, construction must begin by September 1, 2001 and the plant must be operational by March 1, 2007.

What will it look like, how big will it be?
The filtration plant is to be built under the Mosholu Golf Course, which is to be restored after construction. ("All facilities and functions would be replaced and enhanced," the DEIS states.) But it will be elevated 35 feet above its current grade in the eastern portion of the site. The filtration plant will occupy 11 acres but the entire project is expected to affect 23 acres of park land. The DEP estimates the loss of 45 trees during construction which it plans to replace. Park advocates say there won't be enough soil on top of the plant to sustain trees and other landscaping and that the flat cover over the facility is no substitute for the rolling topography that exists there now.

What organizations are involved in this issue and how can I contact them?
The Mosholu Woodlawn South Community Coalition
is the Norwood affiliate of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, a 25-year-old grassroots organization that covers 10 neighborhoods. phone: 655-1054; e-mail: mwscc@igc.org

The Friends of Van Cortlandt Park is dedicated to the protection and improvement of the park. phone: 601-1460; e-mail: fvcp@webspan.net

Croton Watershed Clean Water Coalition is an organization of watershed activists from New York City and upstate. phone:914-234-3179; e-mail: marian451@aol.com

The Norwood-Bedford Park Consortium consists of representatives from community organizations in Norwood and Bedford Park. phone: 882-4000

Bronx Council on Environmental Quality is a borough-wide advocacy group. phone: 885-3822; e-mail: bceq@aol.com

Other Resources:
The Friends of Jerome Park Reservoir
maintains a website devoted to filtration and other watershed issues. It includes a number of links to other pertinent sites. website: http://members.aol.com/jeromepark

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection is the agency that oversees the siting and construction of the filtration plant. phone: 595-6565; website: http://www.ci.nyc.ny.us/dep (the draft environmental impact statement is available at this site).

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is the federal agency requiring the city to build the filtration plant. phone: 212-637-3000; website: http://www.epa.gov

The Norwood News keeps an archive of past filtration stories on this website: Click on "ongoing stories." For more information, e-mail: norwoodnews@bronxmall.com or call 920-6300.

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