Water Watch NYC

Everything you need to know about water in NYC.

The Delaware Aqueduct Leak

17 Comments

The 85-mile long Delaware Aqueduct, which is the longest continuous tunnel in the world, provides New York City with about half of its drinking water and as residents of Wawarsing, New York know all too well, it has been leaking for about twenty years. Your average New Yorker doesn’t know this, so why does everyone in Wawarsing? The answer is simple: It’s leaking into their homes and yards.

Unfortunately, little can be done at this point to actually fix the leak. There is no system providing any redundancy to the Delaware Aqueduct, which means that if the water was drained from the Delaware Aqueduct’s water tunnels in order to fix the leak, there would be no other system to carry the Delaware Aqueduct’s water to NYC and New York’s water supply would be cut in half.

Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV)

Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV)

A lot has been done to try and understand the leak. For example, in June, 2003 a self-propelled, submersible Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV), specially designed by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, was sent to survey the damage to the Rondout-West Branch Tunnel, where the aqueduct is currently leaking. The AUV was underwater for 16 hours, captured 160,000 digital images and measured the tunnel’s pressure and velocity. Although first thought to be a success, it turned out that the untethered vehicle passed through the tunnel too quickly to obtain any useful information.

Unfortunately, all we are left with are guesses and estimations. For years, the DEP has been estimating the leak’s loss of water at about 36 million gallons per day. For a recently published press release stating this figure, click here and scroll down a little more than halfway.

Sure, 36 million gallons of water a day is a lot of water and something needs to be done about this, but the point I would like to make here is not about the magnitude of the leak. The point I would like to make is about the DEP and the way they are handling educating the public about this leak. I already mentioned that the average New Yorker knows nothing about it, which is one way in which they’ve failed but it appears that they’ve also been spreading misinformation.

Here is an example: In this New York Times article from 2000, “the city acknowledged the leak” of “about 35 million gallons of water… flowing every day out of cracks in the Delaware Aqueduct…

but the city said that the leak, which represents 3.2 percent of the Delaware Aqueduct flow, was relatively minor and that the risk of further damage was slight. Charles G. Sturcken, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, said the amount of water escaping from the aqueduct every day was equal to the amount from seven open fire hydrants.”

There are two things I’d like to take issue with here. The first is that in this press release, the DEP claims that “one illegally opened hydrant wastes up to 1,000 gallons of water per minute.” Let’s do the math: 1000 gallons of water per minute x 60 minutes in an hour x 24 hours in a day means that one open fire hydrant uses 1.44 million gallons of water per day and seven open fire hydrants use 10.08 million gallons of water per day. Therefore, a 36-million gallon a day leak does not by any means equal seven open fire hydrants. QED.

There is a bigger issue here. In the above New York Time article, the city said that the leak “was relatively minor and that the risk of further damage was slight.” Additionally, the first press release that I linked to claims that “monitoring has shown that the leakage rate is stable and has not grown.” In 2007, the New York State Comptroller’s office released this report that claims (in the first column on page two, in the section “Audit Results – Summary”) that “over the past 18 years the estimated amount of water leakage during full tunnel flow has increased [emphasis mine] from 15-20 to 30-35 million gallons of water per day.”

Isn’t this good news, you ask. We thought that we’ve lost 36 million gallons of water per year for over 20 years as the DEP claimed but now we see that we’ve only been losing that much water for less than five years. Sure, that part of it is good news. But it also means that the leak is growing. So not only are we going to be losing more than 36 million gallons per day in the future, no efforts are being made to fix this leak!

To be fair, Anthony DePalma of the Times asked former DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd about this report when it came out. “She said it is probable that the earlier estimate of the size of the leak was inaccurate and that the true amount of water that was being lost in 1992 was about the same as today” (full article here).

I bring this issue up because it is exactly why this blog was started in the first place. The DEP has been getting away with too much for too long. The public needs needs to be educated about what’s going on so that we can make sure that our government agencies are working for us.

Author: Hershel

Hershel is a Water Management Engineer with Ashokan Water Services, where he's actively involved with conservation and building design issues. Prior to his Ashokan, he was with the City of New York. He is a former President of the New York chapter of the American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE) and is a member of AWWA, NYARM and BOMA. Hershel is an avid kayaker.

17 thoughts on “The Delaware Aqueduct Leak

  1. I encourage you to read Riverkeeper’s recent report on the leak.

    http://www.riverkeeper.org/document.php/885/RvK_Report_Dela.pdf

  2. It riles me that our blessed Government has allowed the infrastructure to deteriorate throughout the nation. Water pipes and Bridges and many more dikes are all in danger of failure….what is your government; local,state and federal….doing about it…call your Congressmen and Women,,buggem til it gets fixed in your neck of the woods…..I have seen water levels rise in my neighborhood, it is not pretty….Sump pumps and generators help in the short term…Good luck New Yorkers…caught the piece on the History Channel this am. Shocking isn’t an adequate word….God Bless…

  3. NOTHING WILL BE DONE TO CORRECT THE PROBLEM UNTIL WATER COMES SHOOTING FROM THE GROUND 20 FEET HIGH AND SOME SMALL TOWN IS FLOODED AND PEOPLE DIE. THEN, THE FEDERAL GOVERMENT WILL SAY ITS A NATIONAL DESASTER AND START POINTING FINGERS AND FIRE SOMEONE FROM THEIR JOB AND BLAME ONE PERSON FOR OUR NATIONS LACK OF “GET IT DONE”. LETS JUST TALK ABOUT, FORM COMMITTES AND HAVE SOME STUDIES MADE ON THE CONCERN. SOMEWHERE IN THE PAST WE BECAME A NATION OF LETS JUST TALK ABOUT IT. WE ARE NOT THE NATION MADE THIS COUNTRY FROM NOTHING. WE ARE A NATION OF WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO GET ME RE-ELECTED TO OFFICE.

  4. I agree completely with BYRD… gov. officials are no longer concerned about the well being of their constituants, but rather their ability to be re-elected. i am constantly disturbed by the continual decay of our infrastructure and at the same time enraged by the salaries of the officials put in position to be our gaurdians. Perhaps after enough of my fellow Americans have succumbed to the means of basic liberties, something will change. I will keep my fingers crossed, my gun loaded and gallons of pure drinking water in store. The s*** is about to hit the fan in this country and we may not be able toclean it up fast enough.

    • I agree about the gallons of water.

    • after the tape ages in dry invironments with heat going tugrhoh the pipe etc the stretch will go causing the leak to return.we know what silicone rubber leak wrap tapes do with pressure age.ok 4 waste pipes but too short.not ok for long term mains.VA:F [1.9.2_1090]please wait…VA:F [1.9.2_1090](from 0 votes)

  5. I say let’s do what we did during the “Great Depression” and put all of these unemployed college grads and unemployed blue-collar people to work on the infrastructure of our nation. Not only would it help to solve unemployment, it would help to solve the budget deficits in the states. Why don’t we have politicians that come up with the solutions?

    • An interesting dussicsion is worth comment. I think that you should write more on this topic, it might not be a taboo subject but generally people are not enough to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers_______________

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  7. Hi, very good website on this niche. I found it on Google. I will surely save it and come back to read it. If you accept a little bit of critique – it needs some iPhone 4S work on the lookpart :)

  8. http://dailyfreeman.com/articles/2011/06/28/news/doc4e09101d6c2bd173623675.txt, portioned copied from the article posted above in the Daily Freeman,

    “Sklerov said part of the funding would be used to reimburse Ulster County for administering the state program, which could only be used by property owners with income at 150 percent or less of median level that has yet to be determined.

    “There’s a certain amount of money that Ulster County would have to contribute to run the program in general,” he said.

    Sklerov said the city funding also includes a program for property owners to receive $20,000 in additional money in exchange for a promise to not take further legal action.

    So who gets paid first, Ulster County for administrating the state program. What total B*** S***.

  9. Another colossal waste of money to fix a problem they have ignored for decades….

    DEP says repairing Delaware Aqueduct leaks top priority

    NEW YORK – Following last weekend’s flooding that sent water gushing through the concrete basement floors of Wawarsing residents plagued with Delaware Aqueduct leaks, the New York City DEP said Monday they are working as fast as they can to resolve the problem.

    Agency spokesman Farrell Sklerov said they have recently announced a $1.2 billion remedy after years of study that cost tens of millions of dollars to permanently fix the problem by 2019.

    While many of the residents of the 40 plus homes in Wawarsing that flood on a regular basis demand immediate action, Sklerov said more study is needed. They await the results of a $4 million review being conducted by the US Geological Survey.

    “The first thing we want to do is see what the results of the study are to see what they effects are, whether there is a connection between the leaks in the Delaware Aqueduct and the basements in the video and when the results of that are in, the appropriate actions will be taken based on the information provided,” he said.

    Sklerov said as a result of the most recent flooding, DEP brought six gas powered portable sump pumps to help reduce the flooding.

  10. Interesting that folks here are so intent on blaming ONLY the “big bucks” entities that, by default, they absolve themselves.

    But as a New Jersey resident (though a New York taxpayer), I’d put New York City’s investment in capital repair against almost any other regional/Northeast entity, and most comparable governments anywhere else in the United States, on infrastructure commitments.

    That’s not to say folks in Wawarsing aren’t suffering or that they have no right to complain; they are and they do. But considering that Gotham has (and is addressing, yea verily, however “slow” it might appear) other pressing infrastructure needs, such as sewer/CSO, road/bridge, and subway rehabilitation, it’s impressive that Wawarsing has been as *successful* as it’s been to draw attention.

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  14. What happens went upstate New York runs out of water then what happens No New York City? Where does all waste go from city?

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