Enhanced source-water monitoring for New York City: historical framework, political context, and project design

350 210 Stroud Water Research Center

Blaine, J.G., B.W. Sweeney, and D.B. Arscott. 2006. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 25(4):851–866.



An enhanced water-quality monitoring project was established in 2000 for streams providing drinking water to New York City (NYC). The project’s design considered the history of the NYC source watersheds, and some of the broader issues facing freshwater supply systems in general. NYC’s relationship with its watershed has historically been acrimonious and filled with mistrust, a situation that became critical in 1989 when the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the Surface Water Treatment Rule (SWTR), which required all unfiltered public water-supply systems either to provide filtration or to comply with a stringent set of water-quality, operational, and watershed-control standards. Plans to implement this rule caused further mistrust and lawsuits, which led in 1997 to the NYC Watershed Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), a compromise that was accepted by all the stakeholders. The MOA addressed fundamental issues about: 1) the protection, allocation, and ownership of water resources, 2) the identification and valuation of ecosystem services, 3) the compatibility of environmental protection and economic development, and 4) strategies for bringing together diverse stakeholders in the watershed. One of the provisions of the MOA was to enhance the existing city, state, and federal monitoring programs for NYC’s source watersheds. The monitoring project described in this series, which is part of that enhancement, recognizes philosophically that source watersheds and their ecosystems are: 1) the ultimate source of the water, 2) the major source of anthropogenic contaminants in the water, and 3) the primary natural processors of water-borne contaminants. Protecting NYC’s source-water areas requires an integrated approach that ties historical and contemporary land use into the design of a large-scale, enhanced, water-quality monitoring project (the Project). The Project set forth 4 primary objectives: 1) to create a quantitative baseline of selected physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of source-water streams and reservoirs for use in assessing future changes in the quality of NYC’s drinking water and the integrity of the associated aquatic ecosystems, 2) to include in the baseline factors that are sensitive to temporal variability, are reproducible, and lend themselves to unconfounded analyses among sampling sites and times, 3) to integrate temporal and spatial change in both the level of selected contaminants and the structure and function of biological communities and ecosystems to assess whether impairment impacts the ability of the streams to provide ecosystem services related to water quality, and 4) to provide additional direction and perspective to the overall watershed management plan for the NYC source-water area. All papers in this series cover Phase I of the monitoring project, which involved physical, chemical, and biological measurements made during 2000 to 2002 at 60 stream sites distributed across a 5066-km2 study area.