The Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that the United States filed suit under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act against the city of New York and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection for their longstanding failure to cover the Hillview Reservoir located in Yonkers, New York. A consent decree requiring the City to make improvements and cover the Reservoir at an estimated cost of $2.975 billion and to pay a $1 million civil penalty was also lodged with the Court. The State of New York will be a co-plaintiff and is a party to the consent decree.
“Today we take the necessary steps to fix a serious public-health problem,” said Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Congress enacted the Safe Drinking Water Act to ensure that every American has access to safe water to drink. And we vindicate that Act by ensuring in our enforcement action that the City of New York will comply with this federal law by protecting against contaminants aerially deposited into the Hillview Reservoir, which millions of New Yorkers depend for their everyday drinking water needs.”
“The United States brought this action to ensure that New York City covers the Hillview Reservoir to protect the drinking water City residents receive from the Catskill-Delaware Drinking Water Supply. This Office will continue to monitor and enforce the Consent Decree through completion of its requirements,” said United States Attorney Richard P. Donoghue for the Eastern District of New York.
“New York City failed to comply with Safe Drinking Water Act requirements that keep drinking water safe from harmful bacteria and viruses, even when it was under an order to do so,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “EPA will ensure the City complies with the decree and takes the necessary steps to prevent its drinking water from harming the health of its residents.”
The Reservoir is part of New York City’s public water system, which delivers up to a billion gallons of water a day. The Reservoir is an open storage facility and is the last stop for drinking water before it enters the City’s water tunnels for distribution to city residents. The 90-acre reservoir is divided into two segments, the East and West Basins. Prior to the water entering the Reservoir, it receives a first treatment of chlorine and ultraviolet treatment. Since the Reservoir is an open storage facility, the treated water in the Reservoir is subject to recontamination with microbial pathogens from birds, animals, and other sources, such as viruses, Giardia, and Cryptosporidium. Giardia and Cryptosporidium are protozoa that can cause potentially fatal gastrointestinal illness in humans.
The City has been required to cover the Reservoir since it first executed an administrative order with the State of New York on March 1, 1996. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act and its regulations, the City also became obligated, as of March 6, 2006, to cover the Reservoir by April 1, 2009. In May 2010, EPA entered into an administrative order with the City requiring the City to meet a series of milestones to cover the Reservoir. The first milestone was Jan. 31, 2017. When the City failed to meet that date, this lawsuit followed.
The consent decree requires construction of two projects in addition to the cover, the Kensico Eastview Connection (KEC) and the Hillview Reservoir Improvements (HRI). The KEC entails the construction of a new underground aqueduct segment between the upstream Kensico Reservoir and Eastview ultraviolet treatment facility. The HRI requires extensive repairs to the Hillview Reservoir, including replacing the sluice gates that control water flow and building a new connection between the reservoir and water distribution tunnels. The completion of the KEC is expected to take until 2035. The City estimates the construction cost of the KEC to be approximately $1 billion. The HRI project will be conducted concurrently with the KEC and is anticipated to be completed by 2033. The City estimates the construction cost of the HRI to be approximately $375 million. Following the completion of the KEC and the HRI, the East Basin cover will be constructed, with expected commencement of full operation in 2042, and then the West Basin cover will be constructed, with expected commencement of full operation in 2049. The City’s estimate in 2009 for the cost of its then planned concrete cover for the 90-acre Reservoir was $1.6 billion.
Until the cover is in operation, the consent decree also requires the City to implement Interim Measures to help protect the water, including enhanced wildlife management at the Reservoir and Reservoir monitoring.
In addition, under the consent decree, the City will pay the United States a civil penalty of $1 million for its past violations of federal requirements. The consent decree also provides that the City will pay New York State $50,000, and implement a state Water Quality Benefit Project in the amount of $200,000, to settle the State’s claim for penalties for violations of a state administrative order.
The proposed settlement which is subject to a 30-day public comment period is available at: https://www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees.
The civil negotiations and settlement were handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Civil Division and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. Negotiations were conducted by Assistant United States Attorney Deborah B. Zwany, working with Elizabeth Yu of the Environment and Natural Resources Division; Phyllis Kaplan Feinmark, Regional Counsel’s Office, EPA Region 2; Doughlas McKenna, Chief of the Water Compliance Branch, EPA Region 2; Nicole Foley Kraft, Chief of the Ground Water Compliance Section, EPA Region 2; Morgan Rog of the EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance; Gavin McCabe from the New York State Attorney General’s Office; and Roger Sokol from the New York State Department of Health’s Bureau of Water Supply Protection.
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