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Editorial: After the floods, New York City must keep doing its share

Tuesday, September 3, 2013
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In the early days, New York City got its drinking water from the Collect Pond in lower Manhattan, until it became badly polluted from the city’s growing population. That touched off a search for water that took the city further and further north — eventually all the way to the Catskills, where a reservoir system was created in the early 1900s. It’s taken almost 100 years, but the city is finally starting to live up to all the responsibilities that come with such ownership. The flood-weary residents of the surrounding communities, including those in Schoharie County, deserve no less.

When it comes to drinking water, it’s not only a question of quantity (which the reservoirs supply for the city’s 9 million people in abundance) but quality. Fortunately, New York City itself is much more concerned about pollution than in the Collect Pond days, and there are now other entities, such as the federal Environmental Protection Agency, to safeguard against it.

In the early 1990s, the EPA told the city it would have to build a huge, multibillion-dollar water filtration plant for its incoming reservoir water. Then, after years of negotiations involving the city, state and upstate communities, the agency agreed to a worthwhile experiment in which the city would provide the locals with money, technical assistance and whatever else was needed to keep industrial chemicals, sewage, farm fertilizers, soil from erosion, etc., out of the water.

Overall, the city has done a decent job of that, but the task has become much harder with the recent floods. That’s why we were pleased to hear the city announce last week that it will spend an undetermined amount of money on flood mitigation and stream restoration projects. It will also contribute $17 million to help flood-prone residents relocate and cover the local share of federal flood buyout programs.

At least as important for the long term, the city, after years of resistance, is finally showing a willingness to keep its dams less than full — or release water before a storm, as it did before Hurricane Sandy — to prevent or mitigate flooding. Also encouraging, the city’s reservoir policies and operations are now being watched more closely than in the past — by the state Health and Environmental Conservation departments, and by two local representatives who have become deeply involved in this issue: state Assemblyman Peter Lopez and U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson.

Gibson last week put out a statement that said, “Principally, we are looking for effective flood mitigation strategies for upstate communities, resolution to turbidity issues throughout the watershed, and equitable policies that balance the need for the conveyance of clean water to New York City with the economic viability and safety of communities in my district.” And Lopez, in a phone conversation, said much the same thing.

Sounds like a plan.

 
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