Water Watch NYC

Everything you need to know about water in NYC.


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NYC Faces Potential Water Crisis in Wake of Failed Conservation Efforts

In preparation for the Delaware Aqueduct shutdown, several initiatives to reduce water consumption have been proposed for New York City.  Cutting off 50% of the water supply will be a major crisis, with catastrophe looming if a drought should coincide with the shutdown.  The Water Board states that they are confident that the Delaware Aqueduct shutdown will not result in a NYC drought, but nevertheless recently redefined drought to mean  insufficient water reaching the city, opposed to the old definition meaning insufficient water in the reservoirs.

The DEP was counting on conservation as the cheapest and most viable solution to cope with a severely diminished water supply, but it’s not working.  Efforts are not being taken seriously, and Department of Environmental Protection is worried that reducing consumption will reduce revenue.  As shown in the accompanying graphs, revenue in recent years has increased while consumption has remained stagnant.

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The Toilet Replacement Program, introduced in 2014 as part of the Multifamily Conservation Program, offered  vouchers to purchase high efficiency toilets.  However, the program fell short of  achieving substantial conservation as the group of eligible recipients is far too small.  In order to qualify, customers must be on a flat-rate billing.  However, most New Yorkers use a metered billing system, paying per usage.  This is no coincidence.  The DEP strategically designed a program in which they appear to be promoting conservation, while  insuring revenue increases.

The DEP boasts how water consumption has dropped for municipal properties such as public schools and government buildings.  The only reason consumption dropped is because these buildings pay a flat-rate and were eligible for toilet replacement.  Although consumption has dropped in these buildings due to toilet replacement, leaks and running faucets are likely to go unnoticed, as they make no impact on their  water bill.  Government-owned property should be held accountable for water usage and billed based upon consumption.  Moreover, to successfully conserve water, non-flat rate payers should be able to participate in conservation  programs.

It is evident that the DEP does not want people to save money by saving water.  It’s about time Mayor de Blasio and the DEP recognize that in the long run, water security for New York City is more important than revenue.  Without proper conservation methods in place and major modifications made to plumbing in all buildings, New York City will not be prepared for the staged drought at the time of the Delaware Aqueduct shutdown.  If conservation is taken seriously, the shutdown will only pose minor inconvenience.  If it is not, the drought will be catastrophic.


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Repairing the Delaware Aqueduct: When Will New York City be Ready?

The Delaware Aqueduct, completed in 1944, is the longest tunnel in the world.  This 85 mile stretch of steel and concrete transports 50% of New York City’s water supply downstate from several reservoirs in the Delaware Watershed.  In 1991, a major leak was discovered near Newburgh, but the Department of Environmental Protection did not release a remediation plan until 2010.  In the interim, the DEP tested and surveyed the aqueduct, determining that between 15 million and 35 million gallons of water were being lost each day.  The leak was caused by the unstable geologic features through which this segment of the tunnel passed under the Hudson River.  The tunnels were bored through faulted limestone, which did not provide enough support.  Thus, cracks developed and leaks sprung.

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Source:  Upstater Magazine

The DEP’s 2010 repair plan was to construct a bypass tunnel.  Since it still must travel under the Hudson River through unstable limestone, the 2.5 mile bypass is to be lined with 9,200 linear feet of steel, while the original tunnel was only lined with 1,900.  Between 2013 and 2016, the shafts on each side of the tunnel were completed, and a high-tech boring machine was constructed.  Just this year, the boring machine (named after Nora Stanton Blatch Deforest Barney, the first woman in the U.S. to earn an engineering degree) and 40-foot sections of steel liner were delivered to the site where the project will begin in Newburgh.  Boring the hole for the bypass tunnel is projected to take two years, during which the leaking segment of the aqueduct will remain in use.  After completion, it will take 6 to 8 months to shut down the current aqueduct, drain it, connect the bypass, and get everything back up and running.  The entire project was originally scheduled for completion in 2019, but according to the DEP, the tunnel alone will not be finished until 2022.  If all goes as currently scheduled, the earliest the water will flow through the bypass tunnel and into the city is 2023.

Because the Delaware Aqueduct delivers half of New York City’s water supply, a complete shutdown for several months poses issues.  To ensure that the city has access to sufficient, reliable water during the shutdown, the Water for the Future program was developed.  Under this initiative, the Catskill Aqueduct was to be repaired starting in 2016 to increase capacity by 30 to 40 million gallons per day.  The project, now scheduled to begin in 2018, requires three separate 10-week shutdowns, and is projected to be completed by 2020.  Rehabilitating the Queens Groundwater System is also on Water for the Future’s agenda.  This water source is expected to provide over 30mgd, but as of June 2017, the only progress the DEP has made was holding public meetings regarding the intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement.  The proposal was not well received by Long Island officials, who are concerned that re-opening these wells may damage aquifers that provide water to Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The Water for the Future program includes plans for a filtration plant, making water from the Croton Watershed available in New York City.  Construction of the Croton Water Filtration Plant was completed in 2015, and it has supplied water to parts of Manhattan and the Bronx ever since.  This extra water will be crucial during the period when the Delaware Aqueduct water supply is cut off.  Normally, the Croton Watershed provides about 10% of the city’s water daily.  The Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that in times of drought or emergency, in this case the Delaware Aqueduct shutdown, it is capable of providing 30% of the city’s water.  Lastly, the DEP has been implementing conservation initiatives in the city, so New Yorkers become dependent on less water.  The 2013 Water Demand Management Plan, created in light of the Water for the Future program, details the implementation of water management projects throughout New York City.  These 21 initiatives include municipal, residential, and non-residential water efficiency; water distribution optimization, water supply shortage management, and upstate water conservation.  Completion is aimed for 2021.

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Data Source:  NYC Open Data

Despite these efforts to prepare for the shutdown, it is questionable whether New York City is ready for this project.  Although water consumption per capita in New York City has dropped over the years (30% since the 1980s), the population has increased.  Since the Water Demand Management Plan was implemented in 2013, the city has seen slight fluctuations in daily consumption, and no substantial reduction, as shown in the accompanying graph. Mayor de Blasio has a track record of postponing work on water-related projects, such that budgets can be realigned to keep water rates down.  However, without improved water infrastructure New York City will be very ill-equipped in the event of a drought or natural disaster.  It is crucial that projects and conservation initiatives are brought to fruition, because at its current rate of consumption, New York City is not prepared for the Delaware Aqueduct shutdown.  Ideally, water consumption must be cut by 40% before the shutdown occurs.  We are in a precarious position, in which we can afford neither to push the completion date of the repairs farther out, nor to begin the project without proper conservation methods and supplementary water sources secured.  It is imperative that action is taken soon to ensure New Yorkers have a reliable water source for years to come.


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The Nebia Shower System: Worth the Hype?

Nebia_08-08-17_02-3The Nebia shower system attracted a lot of attention when it launched on Kickstarter in 2015.  The product was backed by companies including Apple, Google, and Equinox, and reached its Kickstarter funding goal within a matter of hours.  The product supposedly uses 70% less water than a standard shower while still providing sufficient water pressure and heat.  Kickstarter backers began receiving their Nebia showers in early 2017.  Here at Ashokan Water Services, our Nebia arrived in June, and now it’s time to see if it lives up to the hype!  The product has been reviewed by tech nerds, business people, lifestyle bloggers, fashion writers, and more.  Here’s the opinion of water conservation and management specialists.

I never thought too much about my showers until now, but I can say for certain that many either used too much water, or had terrible water pressure.  My point of comparison for the ideal shower is my shower-head at home, which is round and flat with decently sized holes such that water pressure is just right and the water retains heat.  There is nothing worse than water pressure so strong it might as well be from a power washer, or so weak it might as well be from a misting fan found along a queue in an amusement park.  A good shower should also have a gradual temperature range- not just a freezing and a burning setting.  Finding the perfect water temperature should never be frustrating.  I’m curious to see where the Nebia falls on this spectrum of pressure and temperature controls.

As the Nebia shower was originally intended to target water scarcity issues in the developing world, I feel that it is appropriate to compare a Nebia shower to an actual shower in the developing world in terms of experience, design, and water usage.  I once spent a month living in a small city in Nicaragua called El Sauce, in which there was only running water for a few hours each day.  For a city with relatively limited water access, every act of water consumption used a great deal of water (notably, the shower).  It struck me as strange that the shower in my humble home did not have a shower-head.  There was no bother to break water up into droplets; instead a waterfall-like deluge rinsed me of sweat and dirt, then consequently of shampoo, conditioner, and soap.  There was never an ounce of soapy residue on my skin or in my hair, which in my opinion is the sign of a successful shower.  However, this successful cleansing was only achieved by using a lot of water.

Water is rationed in El Sauce as a conservation effort, for the area often experiences drought.  It would be amazing if a product like the Nebia shower system, if installed at a large scale, could allow similar communities to run water throughout the day. If Nebia succeeds, perhaps it really can solve some of the world’s water problems.  Perhaps it can standardize the shower experience, creating some sort of shower utopia.  But showers are an extremely subjective matter, and for now, I will have to find out for myself if I think Nebia can inspire a global shift in shower norms, creating a world in which a shower in Brooklyn and a shower in El Sauce are exactly the same.

One of the most common and understandable complaints about the Nebia shower system is the price.  When we purchased our Nebia at Ashokan, it cost around $400.  In New York City (with water priced at $0.013 a gallon according to Nebia’s website) a single person taking one eight-minute shower every day will break even in water and heat savings after four years of use.  A household of four, taking one shower each per day, can cover the cost in savings in just one year.  However, the current price of a Nebia shower system on the official website, which is the only retailer for the product, is a whopping $649.  It would now take one person about six and a half years to make up cost in savings, and it would take a family of four about a year and a half.  Nebia released a statement in March that the price of their product will eventually rise to $699.  Making the switch from a traditional shower-head is pricey, but Nebia offers a monthly payment plan which hopefully makes the product more attractive to prospective customers.

With all of this in mind, I prepare myself to try the Nebia shower system.  I have done extensive research, and read countless product reviews.  I am expecting to be shocked, maybe even confused, by the feeling of tiny, atomized water droplets on my skin and the all-encompassing, cloud-like immediate wetness.  I am not able to wrap my mind around these sensations.  Folks on the internet have very mixed opinions about whether or not the Nebia shower is capable of getting the rinsing job done.  One of these opinion groups must be doing something wrong (too much soap, or not enough?), so I need to see for myself.  There are also many complaints about the fact that the main shower head does not turn off when the wand is in use. We were questioning whether this was a feature or a flaw in our device, since showers generally have an option for the wand to be used alone.  My research has confirmed that the simultaneous use of wand and shower head is intended, making this a feature, not a flaw. But what does this mean in terms of water use? If the product is designed for conservation, having the option to use the wand alone seems practical.

Using the Nebia shower system is unlike using any other shower I’ve encountered.  Despite my research findings, I was skeptical about whether or not this thing was going to be warm or able to clean effectively.  But I was proven very wrong!  It is extremely important to note that the distance between the shower and your head will make or break the experience.  If the shower-head is too high up, the water is not warm by time it reaches you.  The hottest water is at the source, so the closer you are to the shower-head, the warmer the shower.  I was impressed at how easily adjustable the neck is.  It slides effortlessly to any height (being a mere five feet tall, I had to move it quite far down), with no notches or knobs involved in the adjustment process.  The magnetic design of the wand is excellent as well, allowing for easy grabbing and storing.  In terms of experience, I didn’t mind that the wand could only be used simultaneously with the shower-head.  It was nice for rinsing my legs, since the main stream of water becomes mistier and less effective at rinsing as it descends.

There are two water settings, one using slightly more water than the other.  I found that both had more than adequate pressure, but the higher setting made the shower feel slightly warmer.  I successfully rinsed myself of shampoo, conditioner, and soap.  My hair and skin feel refreshed and soft!  Because the water droplets are so tiny and are forced from the nozzle at high speed, it almost felt like warm air was being blown onto my scalp.  This windy sensation was pretty relaxing, but did rustle the shower curtain a bit, which was slightly annoying.  My only true complaint is that water got all over the floor outside the shower.  However, this is a very easy problem to fix! If you don’t have a shower with a door, I would recommend weighted shower curtains that stay in place.  If you have a bathtub, this is likely less of an issue for the walls would contain the mist that otherwise sneaks its way onto the floor.  Although the floor was wet, the rest of the bathroom was totally dry.  There was no steamy condensation on my glasses which were sitting nearby, and my clothing which was hung in the bathroom stayed perfectly dry.

Moreover, the concept and execution of the Nebia shower system is truly revolutionary.  The experience is enjoyable, and the product is beautifully designed.  The steep price is certainly a drawback, and I commend those who have taken the initiative to make the investment already.  In a day and age where conservation should be a top priority, I truly hope Nebia can be successful such that the creators are able to achieve their initial goal of delivering an affordable solution to water scarcity issues globally.  Here at Ashokan, where our goal is to save water and money, we would love to see Nebia shower system become both an affordable product and the norm for shower water consumption.


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Water is the Life of NYC

water_main    Created in 2008, the “Water is the Life of NYC” mural is the pride of Park Slope. Painted upon the side of 209 4th Avenue between Union and Sackett Streets, this mural depicts the ongoing water cycle of New York City from its origins in the rural provinces of New York State to the myriad of destinations throughout the more urban areas of New York.

Colorful, vibrant, and lively as the abundance of New Yorkers who pass this wall each day, the mural brings a small reminder to the people about where their clean and top-quality water derives from.  Illustrating the process by which NYC maintains its running water system, the mural brings awareness to the public about the precious and often overlooked part of our lives which we tend to forget how vital it truly is.

Spreading across the side of 290 4th Avenue, the mural depicts the origins of water as a romanticized view of Mother Nature in the form of billowing white clouds with flowing hair made of vapor. A flow of water is generously released from Mother Nature’s hands which fall into two reservoirs which service New York State, the Catskills and the Croton. The water, after its journey from the country, reservoirs and dam finally arrives at the faucet in which New Yorkers use for their daily use.

The lower left side of the mural shows the miners (affectionately known as “the Sandhogs”) create and maintain the water tunnels which bring water..

As seen with the figure filling up his bottle from the fountain, the mural itself promotes the use of reusable water bottles. Reusable water bottles are a great way to protect the environment instead of using single-use plastic bottles which are usually not completely recycled and ends up in our landfills and water systems. With this message, this mural hopes to show New Yorkers the cycle of our water in how we obtain it, use it, and protect it.

Ashokan is proud to be located in a community that expresses its love and respect for water.


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DEP and Water Board Agree: Revenue Good (But What’s Conservation?)

The DEP has been promoting water conservation for two decades, since the droughts of the 1980s.  But June 17, 2011, the Water Board’s last meeting of the fiscal year, marked the end of an era of “conservation” rhetoric. Gone are the days of saving water and taxpayer money. The future is all about increased sales and maximum revenue: consumption, not conservation.

Source: NYC Water Board Financial Update – 6/7/2011

According to their financial presentation, the DEP collected $2.68 billion from residents last year and surpassed their own revenue projections by 2%. The good news: that’s the first time since 2005 that they haven’t made less money than hoped. The bad news: that’s also almost nine billion more gallons of water used, plus the $51 million more that taxpayers coughed up to pay for it. So why, after worshiping ‘less is more,’ are more water and more revenue suddenly a triumph? Over the past ten years, usage decreased for all but two of them (see the Water Board’s report, page 29). Now, with our water use back up to near 2009 levels, water is just a stream of revenue again.

Pay no attention to how our water rates are higher than ever, every year. (This year’s 7.5% hike to $8.21 is somehow the lowest rate hike since 2006.) All that seems to matter to the DEP and Water Board is that more people get more water and pay more and more for it. The leading concern of the Water Board, according to their Mission Statement, is whether “revenue collections will satisfy revenue requirements of the [Water and Sewer] System.”

The only kind of waste that makes sense in this System is wasted potential: water not sold, consumption not metered, bills not paid. More revenue can be good for the whole city. It just depends on why there’s more of it. More paying customers come naturally with more people in the city, which in turn requires expanded services. Still, the DEP has maintained that distributing more water will bring down its cost to residents. The ‘reduced increase’ of this year’s rate seems to corroborate that a bit, yet the DEP can only continue to reap increasing revenue at the increased expense of residents. Is such public service really self-service or endless debt service? For instance, are “same-customer sales” a real measure of success for a public agency? Does the fact that each customer paid (on average) 19.2% more in October 2010 to use 6% more water than in October 2009 constitute a win for New York City?

As it is, revenue maximization is our current course. Meanwhile, conservation is a promised land saved for rainy days. Where we’ll end up, though, depends on who adjusts the sails.


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Conservation or Economy?

At last Friday’s Water Board meeting, it was announced that the 6% drop in water consumption has increased to above 7%. While the DEP, Water Board and this blog have in the past attributed this reduction in water use to conservation, we would now like to explore the possibility that something else is going on here.

While we are sure that some of this reduction in consumption is due to conservation, the possibility was raised on Friday that more than just conservation may be at play here. As the economy continues to suffer and more and more businesses close their doors, it stands to reason that less water will be used. Therefore, it makes sense to say that this unprecedented drop in water consumption should not be entirely attributed to conservation, but some “credit” should go to the weak economy.

This makes the DEP’s job of predicting future water consumption extremely difficult. In the past, the DEP could safely predict an annual 1% drop in water consumption due to conservation. Now that the economic climate is affecting water consumption, the DEP must predict how much longer and to what degree consumption will continue to drop above and beyond the 1% per year figure. And when consumption starts picking up again, the DEP must predict how long it will take and how much consumption will increase.

In the past we have been hard on the DEP. I don’t mean to say that we won’t continue to be hard on them. Hopefully, our past and future criticism of the DEP will enable changes that benefit both New York residents and the DEP. But we do have to recognize that every now and then the DEP is thrown a curveball and we hope they continue to do their best to deal with those curveballs as they come.