Image: NYC Environmental Protection website
This post was written by Bronx Health REACH Intern Sandra Nakandakari Higa.
Growing up in Lima, Peru, my relationship with tap water was different from most people in the United States. I would use it to wash my body and rinse my mouth, but it would always stay on the surface, never letting it get inside my body. Peru is a county where typhoid and cholera can be present in water, and as such, before drinking, water must always be boiled to kill germs.
In Peru, as in many countries in South and Central America, the struggle to access safe drinking water is a complex problem with many layers. First, the source of water is a highly polluted river, with runoffs from mining and industrial activities. Second, treatment plants usually don’t have the technologies and capacities to remove hazards appropriately and their main approach to control bacterial levels is throwing an excessive amount of chlorine. This renders a potable water that fails to meet WHO standards for drinking. Lastly, often the underground water line is not protected and different contaminants leak into the stream. Thus, even if the water leaves treatment plants free of microbes, it can get contaminated on their way to the tap, forcing users to boil the water before consumption.
By contrast, the New York water supply has many layers of protection. First, the areas surrounding the two main sources of water, the Delaware and Catskill watersheds, are regulated to prevent hazards from getting into the source. The stream, pumped by gravity alone, travels via aqueducts to the Kenisco Reservoir, where water quality is constantly monitored and treated with appropriate levels of chlorine. Then, the water reaches the high-tech treatment plant in Westchester, where UV light (a safer and supplementary option for chlorine) is used to kill microbes. Next, right before the water enters the city, it stops at the Hillview Reservoir. There, water is monitored and treated again to disinfect it and the pH is raised to levels that prevent the leaking of harmful metals due to corrosion of the pipes. The water finally feeds the city through a huge network of pipes and around 1000 water-sampling stations throughout the city allow the regular testing for contaminants, including lead.
After two years in the US, my perception of tap water has completely changed. When I first arrived in 2014, I only drank bottled water or filtered tap water. As immigrants, we take our culture and customs with us, which is an important practice that preserves our history and heritage. However, it is equally important to keep an open mind to change, especially when these changes improve quality of life and health. In New York City, we are fortunate to have access to high quality water all over the five boroughs, from a tap in the Empire State Building to a sink in a South Bronx apartment. If you struggled coming up with reasons to choose tap water, it is time to reconsider. Making consumption of tap water a habit should be easy, because the benefits are many for health, the environment and it’s free!
“Water Problems in Latin America”. World Water Council, 22 Mar. 2004. Web. 4 May 2016.
Barlow, M. and Clarke, T. “The struggle for Latin America’s Water”. Global Policy Forum, Jul 2004. Web. 4 May 2016.
Rueb, Emily S. “How New York Gets Its Water”. The New York Times, Mar 2016. Web. 5 May 2016.