Letters to the Editor

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The New York Sun

‘Muddied Waters?’

I am writing in appreciation of Gerard Koeppel’s article, “Muddied Waters?” [Oped, August 22, 2006]. Our group, the Croton Watershed Clean Water Coalition, Inc. (CWCWC) has been working to protect the city’s watersheds for ten years. The CWCWC is composed of over 50 environmental, housing, civic, community and religious groups in New York City, Putnam and Westchester counties. Our focus is on protecting the source waters of the Croton watershed.

Mr. Koeppel’s article provided another view of the Department of Environmental Protection’s priorities in stark contrast to yet another article on the third water tunnel that appeared recently in the New York Times. His evaluation of DEP was unfortunately all too familiar to those of us who struggle every day to protect our invaluable and irreplaceable watersheds from being paved over by unsustainable development.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promotes what it calls a “multi-barrier” approach to protecting the Croton water supply — disinfection, filtration and watershed protection. However, construction of the $1.5 BILLION chemical filtration/treatment plant in Van Cortlandt Park has weakened DEP’s commitment to protect the watershed. For one thing it used $200 million of water and sewer rate payers’ money for enhancement of parks throughout the Bronx in order to entice certain Bronx officials to support the park site.

In the first place this was illegal since the law that established the NYC Water Board expressly forbids use of water rate moneys for projects unrelated to the water supply. Water rate payers in other boroughs where park budgets have been slashed end up having to pay for improvements in Bronx parks. In a recent New York Times article (June 15, 2006) Timothy Williams reported, “The city’s parks and recreation centers have steadily deteriorated in recent years because of a lack of maintenance and money, according to a report issued by the group NYC Parks Advocates.”

If DEP can find $200 million to upgrade Bronx parks why can’t it find money to buy sensitive watershed land to protect the city’s drinking water supply? Yet DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd recently testified at a City Council hearing on a bill (Intro 375) to increase watershed land acquisition that land in the Croton watershed was too costly, even though she acknowledged that land acquisition is the best way to protect the water supply.

Filtration is not a magic bullet. The better the water entering the plant the better the water we drink. The extent to which unwise development degrades that source water will determine the quantity of costly chemicals needed to compensate for that degradation.

The water and sewer rate jumped 9.4% this year. The DEP’s ten year capital budget is $16 billion without any provision for the cost of repairing the 38 million gallon a day leak in the Delaware Aqueduct mentioned in Mr. Koeppel’s article along with the 50% debt service New Yorkers are paying.

Maybe it’s because the way the Water Board is set up elected officials aren’t held accountable for the quality and cost of water. Whatever the reason it’s high time DEP’s performance got the kind of media scrutiny that other City agencies are subject to. Thanks again for opening the door on an issue that needs public understanding — protection of the quality and cost of the city’s water supply.

New York, N.Y.

The New York Sun

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