good drinking water = land acquisition

December 4, 2010

We all hear a lot about how great our drinking water is here in New York.  We also all know by now that  New York is one of only five large American cities that is not required by law to filter its drinking water.  The other cities being Boston, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle.  With all of the industrial pollution in New York’s history based on the waterfront how is it that we are able to get clean unfiltered water?  In a large part it is because of the New York city land Acquisition program with which the city has been buying parcels of land in priority areas based on the lands connection to the Catskills watershed.  Just last month, the city bought 40 parcels of upstate land totaling over 4,100 acres and costing over 16 million dollars.  Since the inception of the Land Acquisition Program, New York City has protected over 115,000 acres of watershed land, including more than 78,000 since 2002  in the Catskill/Delaware and Croton reservoir systems.  Thus far, land acquisition has proven to be the most effective way to protect our unfiltered water and the success of the program as earned a 10 year Filtration Avoidance Determination from the federal EPA which will be reviewed in 2017.

Needless to say it is not cheap to buy land in New York.  That being said, the money spent is protecting the water supply of nearly half of the states residents.  Estimates of the costs of building facilities to filter our water range from 10 to 30 billion dollars with an operating cost of 1 million a day should the watershed be contaminated.  This is clearly a tax burden that New York residents can not bear.  If horizontal drilling for natural gas is ever allowed in New York, will the Land Acquisition Program make similar offers to land owners as the gas drilling companies as a means to protect the watershed?  Furthermore, if the water supply were to become tainted, could the state hold the offender accountable for the costs of such a filtration facility?



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