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Post date: December 12 2003

Watershed Study Cites Opportunity To Improve Nyc Drinking Water And Catskill Waterway

Attorney General Spitzer today issued a report on water quality in the Schoharie Reservoir that identifies a new water intake structure which could improve the quality of drinking water drawn from the reservoir and protect a prized Catskill Mountain trout stream.

The report analyzes "turbidity" levels at the Schoharie Reservoir, which provides approximately 20% of New York City's drinking water. Turbidity refers to the effects of suspended sediment in the water reducing water clarity and general quality. Entitled "Clean Water - Clean Creek: A Proposal for a Multiple Level Water Intake Structure in the Schoharie Reservoir to Improve Drinking Water Quality, Protect the Esopus Creek, and Expand the New York City Water Supply" the report examines the quality of water sampled at sites throughout the reservoir to explore ways to reduce its turbidity.

"Safe drinking water is essential to the future of New York," said Attorney General Spitzer. "New York City does a tremendous job providing over a billion gallons of clean water to city residents each day. The analysis of water quality data in the reservoir suggests that a new water intake structure would improve the quality, clarity, temperature and volume of water available from the Schoharie Reservoir - which itself provides drinking water for 1 of every 11 New York State residents. I am delighted that the city will thoroughly examine the proposals in the report."

Christopher O. Ward, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Environment Protection said: "DEP appreciates the efforts made by Attorney General Spitzer and his staff in developing this proposal. We agree that it deserves careful consideration, and it will be evaluated along with other proposals during an upcoming engineering study which DEP expects to commence in early 2004. Several years ago, DEP concluded that it made sense to develop a long-term strategy to reduce turbidity in water from the Schoharie Reservoir, and this study is expected to substantially advance that effort."

Turbidity in the Schoharie Reservoir is a natural phenomenon, resulting from the geology and geography of the reservoir basin. That basin is characterized by steep, mountainous terrain, and fast-flowing streams which often have exposed deposits of clay in the streambed. When heavy rainfall occurs, this clay is often washed into the stream and ultimately into the reservoir, making the water turbid.

The current water intake structure, located approximately in the middle of the reservoir, can only draw water from the reservoir's bottom. This means that New York City draws only bottom water, which is sometimes more turbid than water from higher levels of the reservoir. When this sediment-laden water empties into the Catskill Park's Esopus Creek, on its way to the Ashokan reservoir and then to the city, it often makes the creek brown and interferes with trout fishing on this heavily-used waterway. The turbidity also makes it harder for the city to achieve drinking water quality goals necessary for filtration avoidance.

The Attorney General's report proposes a new intake structure with openings at four to six levels that would allow the city to draw water from closer to both the surface and to the reservoir dam where the water is sometimes clearer. In addition, the new intake would be in a deeper area, allowing the city to draw colder water during the summer - which, while not a concern for the water supply, is good for the trout in the Esopus Creek - and potentially provide access to 3.5 billion gallons of additional water as may be necessary during droughts.

The proposed water intake structure could help the city avoid the need to construct a $6 billion dollar water filtration plant for the Catskill portion of its water supply. Attorney General Spitzer urges the federal government to help fund this new project through the Water Resources Development Act or another federal funding source.

The report is available on the Attorney General's website at: and was written by Peter Skinner, Chief Scientist; James Tierney, Watershed Inspector General; Charles Silver, Watershed Scientist and Peter Lehner, Environmental Bureau Chief.