New York City uses millions of gallons of water every day and counts on its naturally filtrated supply system. NYC water supply system is one of the most extensive and complicated. It is distributing fresh water from hill springs and streams to its households.
Where all of these millions of gallons come from? The city uses natural watersheds located in more than 100 miles away. They get filled by springs, melting snow and rain. Three significant watersheds supply all the water for the city’s enormous needs – the Delaware watershed, Catskill watershed, and Croton watershed. Catskill area distributes nearly 95% of the needed supply on a daily basis.
Back in the 1990’s, the city was facing an increasing demand for water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had to choose between building a costly plant for filtration or extend the system. They preferred the second option where water gets naturally filtrated before getting into reservoirs by forests and the streams which take out contaminants.
To preserve the watersheds and wetlands from pollution, the areas surrounding them are under environmental protection since the 90’s. Half of the land area is owned by the state and the city, while the other half has private owners – mainly farmers. The Department of environmental protection and the landowners, along with non-profit organizations maintain the areas clean and intact.
To get to the kitchens and bathrooms in the city, it goes a long way though reservoirs and massive tunnels also called aqueducts. Big reservoirs collect water from springs and rivers before it gets into the tunnels. The NYC’s system counts on gravity and the natural relief of the areas. It is energy and cost efficient method to distribute water as it doesn’t need pumps.
Three massive aqueducts are passing the water from nearly 130 miles northwest to the city: Delaware, Catskill, and New Croton aqueducts. They feed the Hillview and Kentico reservoirs where the water gets disinfected and filtrated of rocks and big particles:
The tunnels run beneath the Hudson River and the city. They are connected to the complex pipe system. Because of the high pressure inside the tunnels water can reach up to several floors in the pipes only using gravity and natural flow.
Every reservoir has facilities for testing and disinfecting water. Chlorine, phosphoric acid, and sodium hydroxide are added to kill bacteria and increase Ph – in other words, to make it softer. If the Ph is too low the fluid may cause metal pipe corrosion and NYC has nearly 7000 miles of steels and iron pipes.
Water testing is a good idea considering that chemicals are added to it before it gets to the faucets. Freshwater may contain viruses, bacteria, and fungi which are most often killed with chemicals. Some of the old pipes are made from lead or use lead soldering joints, which eventually endangers with lead contamination.
In 2003 New York finished the largest facility in the world for water purification with ultraviolet light. UV light is environmentally friendly and entirely harmless for people’s health. It kills microorganisms without the need for chemicals and preserves the minerals in the water. Still, the facility cannot respond to the city’s full demand.
The EPA is trying to keep water purified and clean by setting over 90 standards for contamination, but still many industrial chemical s are not being tested. Runoff and discharge from factories and farms, as well as fertilizers soaking into the soil can additionally pollute drinking water.
Fires, storms and extreme weather changes also may lower water quality and saturate it with fluoride, dissolved clay or increase Ph levels.
If you want to check NYC tap water, there are quick and inexpensive methods to do it at home.
• Testing strips: You can try testing strips which change color indicating the quality of the liquid. They are easy to use – you need to dip them into the liquid for a couple of seconds and check the color scale.
• Color kits: Some other types of home tests kits use reagent powder which changes the colors of the liquid. Again you should check the scale and the explanation.
• Digital testing: You can invest in a digital instrument which is a lot more accurate, but highly expensive for household usage. For detailed examination is always better to look for professional help in a specialized laboratory.
EPA has strictly determined standards for contaminants. You can check them here. The necessary parameters for testing include microorganisms, disinfectants, chemical byproducts, inorganic and organic chemicals.
• Enteroviruses – They can cause gastrointestinal illness, pharyngitis, herpangina;
• Coliforms, such as E.Coli – E.Coli might be dangerous for human health and cause severe illness;
• Turbidity – the cloudiness of water, which indicates the content of microorganisms
• Chlorine and chlorine dioxide – They may cause nose irritation, stomach problems, and nervous systems problems;
• High levels of toxic metals such as lead or manganese – Toxic metals can be dangerous for the kidneys and blood pressure levels;
• Nitrate and nitrite – Usually coming from fertilizers they are incredibly hazardous to infants in high concentration.
• Fluoride – Fluoride is artificially added to water to promote enamel remineralization.
Tap water is our primal source of fluoride on a daily basis. However, high levels of fluoride are dangerous for the bones and teeth.
• Ph levels.
The list of organic chemicals which source is the discharge of factories are long, and they can be only tested in a laboratory.
Water filters can help get rid of the most of the contaminants. By purifying tap water, you can be sure it is clean from disease-causing microorganisms, toxic metals, and chemicals. Contaminated water can lead to diarrhea, cramps, and vomiting, or in the long term to illnesses such as kidney or liver damage, allergies, and anemia.
There are several types of water filters depending on their function:
• Activated carbon filtering;
• Reverse osmosis;
• UV light purification;
• Whole house systems including physical and chemical filtration methods.
The most popular filters are those with activated carbon and distillation filters. Activated carbon does miracles managing to eliminate industrial chemicals, microorganisms, and detergents. It cannot, however, remove sediments and heavy metals.
Distillation is a simple method when the liquid is boiled to a high temperature until it vapors in the form of steam. The steam is cooled and condensates into liquid again leaving in the filtering chamber all toxic metals and sediments. The high temperature of boiling kills bacteria and viruses.
These two types of filters are inexpensive and very easy to use. They come in the form of pitchers, dispensers, inline filters or tap and shower filters placed directly on the faucets.
Other more effective and expensive types are UV light and whole house systems. UV systems ensure energy saving and are best for long terms use. They guarantee 99% effectiveness for purifying from microorganisms, but cannot deal with water hardness and toxic metals.
Here come whole house systems encompassing sediment filter, water softener, and active agent filtration. They are connected with the main supply line giving you clean water everywhere in the house.
Reading about bacteria, metals, and chlorine might make you want to stop drinking tap water and switch to bottle more safely. Americans consume billions of gallons of bottled water every year thinking it’s safer than tap because it’s contaminant free. The truth is it’s almost the same as tap, but instead from stainless steel pipes, it comes from a plastic package.
Manufacturers claim it’s the better choice because it goes through filtering and it has a higher concentration of minerals. Only a few brands do have a higher level of minerals and filtration is fundamental.
EPA strictly regulates the quality of public water running from your tap. They publish an annual report on their website with statistics for levels of contamination. Bottled water manufacturers don’t do so. There is not enough public information about the quality of bottled water to be sure it’s safer than tap. The FDA, of course, regulates production, but EPA conducts more tests and does it more often.
Considering plastic bottles are not bio gradable and not fully recycled they are dangerous for the environment and you. Nearly 2 million tons of plastic bottles are not recycled every year in the US. Furthermore, bottling needs oil for production and releases high amounts of carbon dioxide.
NYC water supply system is one of the most extent and environmentally friendly. Although it provides natural filtration, water disinfection with chemicals is needed to prevent dangerous contamination and spread of diseases. Furthermore, discharge from factories can pollute it before it gets to our homes.
To be sure you’re drinking clean and pure water you can use filters or choose bottled or mineral water. Whatever you wish you should be aware there is no 100% guarantee, but it’s still the better choice if you doubt the quality of tap water in your home.