Water Supply Milestone Hit As New York City Opens New Tunnel
By Sara Jerome
New York City's infrastructure recently hit a watershed moment; resulting in what officials say is a more reliable water supply for all five boroughs.
"In one of the most significant milestones for the city’s water supply in nearly a century, the tunnel — authorized in 1954, begun in 1970 and considered the largest capital construction project ever undertaken in the five boroughs — will for the first time be equipped to provide water for all of Manhattan," The New York Times reported last week. "Since 1917, the borough has relied on [an older tunnel], which was never inspected or significantly repaired after its opening."
So far, the project has cost $4.7 billion, the article said. The project launched over 40 years ago, and a section between Brooklyn and Queens will not be finished until 2021. Construction was stopped several times due to lack of funds. For a slideshow charting the creation of the tunnel from the Department of Environmental Protection, click here.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised water from the new pipes will not taste different from water carried by the two tunnels already serving the city, according to CBS New York.
Bloomberg framed the opening of the tunnel as a major milestone for New York City. The project revealed how vulnerable the city's water system was previously.
"The truth is that until today, if there was ever a major failure of Water Tunnel No. 1, the potential for public health and safety consequences in Manhattan could have been really grim," Bloomberg said in Capital.
Despite the city's expansive water infrastructure, large spans of its tunnels were not reinforced by additional pipes. "The completion of the new stage gives the entire borough of Manhattan a backup for the first time ever," CBS New York reported.
Redundancy in water infrastructure is a top concern for water utilities. While much of this burden falls on states and localities to sort out, the EPA does some high-level work on the issue, as well.
The agency's Community Based Water Resiliency program is designed to help utilities and communities gauge their preparedness for water emergencies. "Can you survive a day without water?" the EPA asks in its program materials.
The agency fills out the big picture on infrastructure redundancy, pointing to potential failures such as water main breaks, storms, criminal activity, and terrorist acts that could interrupt the water supply in localities. It also noted the interdependencies between the water sector and other industries such as healthcare and agriculture.
At the new tunnel's opening ceremony last week, Bloomberg keyed in on something water professionals know: When infrastructure is working perfectly, the water sector's hard work often goes unnoticed.
“Nobody says thank you," he said.
For previous coverage of New York City infrastructure, including Bloomberg's contention that sturdier infrastructure is needed for the island to weather the storms brought by climate change, check out this piece in Water Online.
Image credit: "Tunnel Excavation," © 2009 stefg74, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en