While many know New York City as the cultural hub of the country, the
financial and media capital of the world, or as "the city that never
sleeps," it is also known for the exceptional purity of its water -- the
champagne of drinking waters. This often comes as a surprise to visitors
who did not already know this. Such quality water usually is not
associated with a big city.
New York City's water supply flows from 19 upstate reservoirs, a
watershed that spans more than 2,000 square miles. It covers eight
counties, 60 towns, and 11 villages in the Catskill Mountain region and
the Hudson River Valley. The effective protection of this essential
natural resource poses an enormous challenge. I am pleased to report
that Congress has just taken an important step to help protect this
essential natural resource.
The effort began many years ago. To safeguard the area and the water,
environmental groups in 1977 came together with New York city and state
officials, upstate communities and the federal government to create the
New York City Watershed Agreement. This historic accord guaranteed the
continued and long-term protection of New York City's drinking water,
while safeguarding the economic viability and environmental quality of
the upstate communities in the watershed.
While the historic and landmark Watershed Agreement laid the groundwork
for protecting the largest unfiltered drinking water supply in the
country, it could only be successful if it was accompanied by an
effective water quality monitoring and surveillance program. And so in
1996, Congress authorized funding for seven years for projects to
protect and enhance the waters that provide New York City's drinking
water. Without the commitment of federal funding, the Watershed
Agreement could not have been signed or implemented.
Over the past seven years, Congress has appropriated $31 million to
implement a comprehensive monitoring and surveillance program, matched
equally by grant recipients. In fact, New York City and New York State
have leveraged those federal funds by committing over $1.6 billion to
protect the New York City drinking water supply.
Authorization for federal funding of the Watershed Agreement expired
September 30, 2003, leaving its future in jeopardy. The entire New York
delegation worked to solve this problem, getting behind a bill, H.R.
2771, to reauthorize the New York City Watershed Agreement at its
current funding levels through 2010. The effort has been completely
bipartisan and fueled by both city and upstate members. I testified,
along with a member representing several upstate counties, in support of
the bill during the committee process. These efforts succeeded in
getting this bill passed by the House of Representatives in May, and
just recently, after much delay, the legislation passed the U.S. Senate.
The bill is now awaiting the president's signature to be signed into
This initiative is crucial to maintaining the safety of New York City's
water supply as well as the economic security of upstate communities.
The city must already build a filtration plant â€“ currently slated for
Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx â€“ to filter the water it gets from
Westchester and Putnam counties. But, without the success of the
Watershed Agreement, New York City would have had to construct a far
more massive water filtration plant to handle water from the Catskill
Mountains area farther upstate at a cost estimated between $6 billion
and $8 billion. This is money that we cannot afford and that could be
put toward better use such as homeland security, education, or health
I am pleased that we will not have to use such funds for a filtration
system now that the federal government has recommitted itself to
protecting New York City's vital water supply. This shows that the New
York delegation, when working together, can accomplish great things for
the entire state.
Ed Towns, a Democrat, is the U.S. representative from the 10th
Congressional District in Brooklyn.
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