Water Supply

Water infrastructure in New York, as in the rest of the U.S., is aging. The USEPA estimates that about $30 billion will be needed in NY over 20 years to meet current standards. Budgetary constraints of federal, state and local governments have resulted in the delay or deferral of critically needed investments. Infrastructure failures such as water main breaks are a daily occurrence in many cities. Water supply systems in New York are similar to those in the U.S. New York has nearly 2000 community water systems, of which the largest 10 percent serve nearly 90 percent of the residents. Fifty percent of the systems serve 500 persons or less individually, and serve only 1 percent of the state's residents collectively. In addition, several residents use individual wells for their drinking water needs.

WRI publications

Vedachalam, S., John, M.E.; Riha, S.J. 2014. Spatial analysis of boil water advisories issued during an extreme weather event in the Hudson River Watershed, USA. Applied Geography, 48:112-121 [link].

Locations of the four desalination projects
Precipitation during TS Irene

In August 2011, Tropical Storm Irene hit the eastern part of New York and surrounding states, causing great damage to public drinking water systems. Several water supply districts issued boil water advisories (BWAs) to their customers as a result of the storm. This study identified major factors that lead water supply systems to issue BWAs by assessing watershed characteristics, water supply system characteristics and treatment plant parameters of water districts in the Mohawk-Hudson River watershed in New York. Results suggest that the probability of a BWA being issued by a water supply district is enhanced by higher precipitation during the storm, high density of septic systems, lack of recent maintenance and low population density. BWAs result in additional costs to residents and communities, and the public compliance of the advisory instructions is low, so efforts must be made to minimize their occurrence.

Vedachalam, S; Riha S.J. 2012. Desalination in northeastern U.S.: Lessons from four case studies. Desalination, 297:104-110 [link].

Locations of the four desalination projects

While much of the desalination activity in the U.S is concentrated in southern and western states, the last decade has seen an unlikely location emerge for desalination — the Northeast. With precipitation often exceeding evapotranspiration, the Northeast generally maintains abundant surface and ground water resources that are readily available for human and ecological use. However, shortfalls in water supplies are leading some communities in the Northeast to consider desalination as an alternative water source. Presently, three desalination projects are in operation, while the fourth one in Rockland County, NY is planned for construction. This study reviewed the conditions which led these locations to implement desalination projects, and identified financing, regulatory challenges and public support as factors critical to the initiation and success
of desalination projects. Using information from the four projects, the study also proposed a set of questions communities should consider to determine the viability of desalination projects vis-à-vis alternatives.

Funded projects

Yuri Gorokhovich, Lehman College, CUNY: The effect of climate change on the unconfined aquifers of Long Island, New York.

Preliminary aquifer modeling results

Long Island sources all potable water from coastal aquifers confined by the Atlantic Ocean and Long Island Sound. Due to their limited recharge areas and disconnect with the mainland, these coastal aquifers are highly susceptible to the impacts of climate change through changing precipitation, evapotranspiration, and sea level rise. The overarching theme of the research project is the impact of climate change on recharge rates and saltwater intrusion on the Upper Glacial, Magothy, and Jameco aquifers located on Long Island, New York. This research will result in a working groundwater model of Long Island that will be used to simulate the impact of climate change on groundwater capacity of the coastal aquifers. This research will benefit decision and policy makers on Long Island by providing a tool for assessing groundwater conditions.