Don’t think that I’m really weird, but one of my favorite movies is Disney’s Enchanted where an animated fairy tale princess finds herself banished to real-life Manhattan, and one of her first discoveries of modern life is the magical waterfall when she turns on a spigot in the shower. Where does the water come from, she asks her host? From the pipes, she is told. But where do the pipes get it, she then asks?
When you turn on that spigot in your kitchen or bathroom without a thought as to where the pipes get it, you can know that the water you enjoy represents centuries of sophisticated engineering from the time of the Egyptians and Romans. The latter civilization developed the first underground aqueduct in 312 BC which created the fundamental design for the construction of our own Croton Aqueduct, completed in 1842 and stretching 40 miles from the Croton River Dam to New York City. The enormity of the project made it the greatest engineering feat to that time in this country.
Since then, our municipal water system has expanded with a New Croton Aqueduct, built in 1890, the Catskills Aqueduct in 1910, from which most of Westchester gets its supply now, and the Delaware Aqueduct in 1928, which is constructed on the other side of the Hudson.
Thanks to well-protected wilderness watersheds, New York’s water treatment process is simpler than in other American cities. One advantage of our system is that 95 percent of our water supply is delivered by gravity. The other five percent needs to be pumped to maintain pressure. More than 90 percent of homes in Westchester enjoy municipal water, while Putnam still depends mostly on well water due in part to its typography and the more rural nature of most of its communities.
Along with some house hunters’ demands for sewer, many demand municipal water in their searches as well.
To trace the journey of our great-tasting water from its source to our spigots, I checked with my local expert, David Rambo, who serves as Water Distribution Superintendant of Yorktown. “The system built in 1842 was an amazing feat of backbreaking work,” said Rambo. “The machines then were not the machines of today which are like giant drills that can create tunnels in rock.”
The odyssey of water originates with the streams, riverlets and lakes in the Croton watershed, the Catskills or in the Delaware system, where water collects into the 19 reservoirs in the New York City system. From the reservoirs, water travels via the aqueducts and through our communities in mains that are as large as 17 feet in diameter.
From the main, water is siphoned off by our local water departments (“and we are charged quite a bit for that privilege,” says Rambo) and delivered to a local treatment plant in pipes that are 24 inches in diameter. Some treatment plants are shared by several towns.
At the plant, the water is filtered through a two-part process, which includes a 24-inch sand filter, and certain protective elements are added to it. These include: chlorine to kill organisms, fluoride to prevent tooth decay, sodium hydroxide, to raise the pH level, and orthophosphate, a substance that coats pipes and keeps them from leaching lead into the drinking water.
Once treated, the water is sent on its way via pumps through pipes 12 to 16 inches in diameter to a water tower, usually 40 to 50 feet high and placed on a higher elevation. It is the release of water from these towers in pipes also 12 to 16 inches in diameter, and then in smaller and smaller pipes, which builds the pressure, until it arrives from the street into our homes in a ¾ inch pipe. There, it passes a meter that registers the home’s consumption. Currently the meters are read individually but Rambo is suggesting to our town that the old meters be replaced with automatic reading technology. As it is now, I know my meter is read regularly because I received a call soon after I filled my pool and was asked if my system should be checked for a leak. From the meter the water travels to the spigots in our bathrooms and kitchens, our toilets, shower and tubs.
Putnam County operates somewhat differently for its lesser requirements for municipal water, with its own series of reservoirs that comprise the Croton watershed. Towns like Brewster and Southeast, for instance, take their water from their own reservoirs.
Today, only Ossining gets its water from the Old and New Croton Aqueducts which supply only 10 percent of New York City’s water today.
According to Rambo, the water has a strict daily testing schedule, which obviously, bottled water does not, and it enjoys a great reputation for taste. In my alter-ego professional pursuits, I sometimes dine or host tastings with food and restaurant critics and while hosting a tasting some years ago for the inimitable food/restaurant critic Gael Greene, I was delighted when she declined bottled water in favor of “plain old ‘NYC’ water. It’s the best!”
As I finish this piece, fearing more water than I want from the Hurricane Irene, I’ll enjoy a great tasting glass of water directly from the tap, followed by a nice hot shower in soft water with great pressure, not even thinking twice about where the pipes get it.
Bill Primavera is a licensed Realtor® (www.PrimaveraHomes.com), affiliated with Coldwell Banker, and a marketing practitioner (www.PrimaveraPR.com). For questions or comments about the housing market, or selling or buying a home, he can be reached directly at 914-522-2076.