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As NYC Agrees to Increased Protection of Catskill/Delaware Drinking Water, EPA Proposes Relief from Designing Filtration; Public Comments Welcome

Release Date: 07/23/2001
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(#01081) New York, N.Y. -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to relieve New York City of its obligation to complete the final design of a drinking water filtration system for the Catskill/Delaware watershed in upstate New York as long as the City increases protections of the water supply. A Filtration Avoidance Determination (FAD) issued by EPA allows New York City to not filter the drinking water from this system, but does require it to complete a final design for a filtration system that could be used if filtration were deemed necessary in the future to protect the drinking water. The Agency is willing to drop the FAD requirement for a final filtration system design as long as the city completes its preliminary design, sticks to a strict schedule for upgrading sewage treatment plants that empty into the watershed, takes other watershed protection measures, and designs and builds a facility that would disinfect the Catskill/Delaware water using ultraviolet (UV) light. EPA is seeking public comment on its proposal.

EPA is currently reviewing the City’s overall watershed protection programs under the FAD and assessing whether these and future efforts will be effective enough to continue to protect the health of the more than 9 million people that drink the water from the Catskill/Delaware system.

All drinking water taken from surface water sources must, under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, be filtered to remove microbial contaminants. The law allows EPA to grant a waiver to water suppliers from this requirement if they demonstrate that they have an effective watershed control program and that their water meets strict quality standards. EPA granted such a waiver, called a Filtration Avoidance Determination (FAD), to New York City in 1997 for water supplying New York City residents coming from the Catskill/Delaware watershed. The FAD requires the City to undertake many programs to control pollution before it reaches the water supply, but to also continue to plan for the construction of filtration facilities, should they prove necessary. According to the FAD, New York City could ask EPA for relief from proceeding with the final design of a filtration plant after it completed the draft preliminary design stage. NYCDEP did just that in December 2000. After careful review of information provided by the City and its commitment to a number of protections and improvements – including the UV light disinfection plant, and the upgrade of key sewage treatment plants – EPA believes that design of filtration facilities beyond the preliminary stage may not prove necessary. The City is required, however, to complete its preliminary design of a filtration system by September 2001. Should the City fail to meet the strict timetable set for the improvements, the final filtration plan design requirement of the FAD would be reinstituted.

"This approach allows us to continue to ensure that the drinking water provided by the Catskill/Delaware system continues to be safe and clean while providing the City relief on what could be a very expensive venture – the final design of a filtration system. This will add to the incentive to upgrade the sewage treatment plants as quickly as possible and will also introduce a promising new technology that will give an added measure of protection from microbial contaminants," said William J. Muszynski, EPA Acting Regional Administrator.

Among many other watershed protection programs, EPA’s FAD required New York City to install microfiltration (or equivalent) - a very high level of treatment – in all wastewater treatment facilities located within the Catskill/Delaware watershed. In its mid-course review of how the City was faring in its commitments under the FAD, EPA expressed concern that the improvements were not being made fast enough. In its request to EPA for relief from having to complete the final design stages of a filtration system, NYCDEP committed to upgrading wastewater treatment facilities in the watershed that account for 83.3% of the wastewater flow in the area by end of June 2002. The wastewater treatment plant upgrades would remove waterborne pathogens and greatly reduce phosphorus discharges into local streams. Failure of the City to meet these deadlines would result in the re-imposition of FAD requirements to complete the final design for a filtration system for the Catskill/Delaware.

Noting that EPA still has the authority to require the City to filter the water from Catskill/Delaware, Mr. Muszynski added, "EPA can require the City to build a filtration system at any time if the Agency deems filtration necessary to protect public health." New York City is required to build a filtration plant for the Croton portion of its drinking water system.

NYCDEP will also complete a feasibility study on the use of UV light to disinfect Catskill/Delaware water, and will submit its findings to EPA by December 31, 2001. If feasible and if agreed to by EPA and the New York State Department of Health, the design and construction of a UV facility will proceed.

Requests from the public for a copy of the City’s request for relief should be made to:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
New York City Watershed Team
290 Broadway, 28
th Floor
New York, NY 10007
Phone/Fax: 212-637-4012/4942

Information can also be found on EPA’s Web site at: Written comments should be sent to the above address, fax number or e-mail address. Comments must be postmarked (if by mail) or received (by e mail or fax) by August 27, 2001.