Spitzer Calls For Tighter Nyc Watershed Pollution Controls

Attorney General Spitzer today called on the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to tighten -- by at least 25 percent -- phosphorus pollution limits in the New York City reservoir system. Such a reduction is expected to result in significantly clearer, cleaner drinking water for the nine million New Yorkers who rely on the vast reservoir system for their water.

The EPA will soon make a decision to establish what levels of phosphorus -- a pollutant from sewage, fertilizers and other human activities -- to allow in the reservoirs that serve downstate residents.

"One of the most important functions of my office is to protect and improve drinking water quality for the millions of New Yorkers who consume water from the New York City watershed," said Spitzer. "It is imperative that phosphorus be effectively controlled to prevent a biological chain reaction from contaminating our drinking water."

Spitzer's call for reduced phosphorous levels in New York City reservoirs was outlined in a comprehensive report released today by the Watershed Inspector General, who works in the Attorney General's office.

The federal Clean Water Act and the 1997 New York City Watershed Memorandum of Agreement require that EPA establish limits for phosphorus levels in reservoirs.

Phosphorus, a nutrient that is limited in pristine environments -- but abundant in human sewage, fertilizer, runoff and soaps -- affects plant growth in the reservoirs. Too much phosphorus triggers algae blooms that result in poor water taste, odor and color, and induces the release of heavy metal contaminants from bottom sediments.

Excess phosphorus in the reservoirs also creates conditions that interfere with drinking water disinfection. In addition, phosphorus pollution results in higher levels of chemicals that are suspected of having numerous adverse health impacts.

The study, "Reducing Harmful Phosphorus Pollution in the New York City Reservoirs Through the Clean Water Act's 'Total Maximum Daily Load' Requirements", includes a case study of the New Croton Reservoir in Westchester County. That reservoir is so overloaded with phosphorus in the summertime that the City of New York has had to shut down the flow from the reservoir or blend water from the New Croton Reservoir with higher quality waters from the Catskills to dilute the pollutants. These reservoir shutdowns have sometimes lasted for months.

Spitzer recommends that the EPA adopt an acceptable phosphorus level no higher than 15 micrograms per liter for all reservoirs in the reservoir system that serve as the last stop for water before the water is chlorinated and distributed for use. Currently, phosphorus levels sometimes exceed 20 micrograms per liter in some reservoirs.

Besides the New Croton Reservoir, this recommendation would also cover the Ashokan, Cross River, Croton Falls, Kensico, New Croton, Roundout and West Branch Reservoirs. Without these new standards, it is likely that other reservoirs will suffer from the many serious phosphorus-triggered water quality problems plaguing the New Croton Reservoir.

The report was written by Assistant Attorney General James Tierney, who serves as the New York City Watershed Inspector General in the Environmental Protection Bureau of the Attorney General's office. The position was created as part of the 1997 Watershed Memorandum of Agreement and is a joint appointment of the Governor and the Attorney General.

The report is available on the Attorney General's website at: www.ag.ny.gov

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