Let the Waters Flow

Fountain fed by Tunnel No. 3

Gas lamps flickered in the twilight. A brass quintet played cheerful tunes. And a City Hall Park fountain burst to life with Catskills rainfall as the newest segment of New York City Water Tunnel No. 3 was ceremonially opened today.

The tunnel will provide redundancy in the Bronx and Manhattan, allowing Water Tunnel No. 1 (leaking millions of gallons of water daily) to be shut down for repairs. Since that tunnel was completed almost 100 years ago, in 1917, and is impossible to fully repair while in service, this work is long overdue.

Deputy Mayor for Operations Cas Holloway said that the existence of Tunnel No. 3 was a testament to long-term planning – similar to the bold, 1901 vision for the water system that resulted in the tunnels we’ve used until now. Moreover, Holloway compared the planning and execution of the tunnel (which has been in progress in some form since 1954) with the city’s response to Superstorm Sandy. “The parallels are striking,” Holloway said. “There’s a water crisis and a pressing need for strong action. After Sandy, in just seven months, we produced a plan to combat climate change and sea level rise, and to improve the resiliency of our city. We can and will carry through on the recommendations of that plan.”

The plan he refers to is the reports of SIRR and the Building Resiliency Task Force that will prepare the city for long-term risks from climate change. More immediately, until now, the Bronx and Manhattan have been at risk for a tunnel failure that could leave large portions of the city without water. There just was not sufficient redundancy to maintain service for everyone in case of a problem. (Don’t worry, Brooklyn and Queens – you’ll have your part of Water Tunnel No. 3 by 2021!)

We’ve reported in the past that from 2015-2019, NYC will have to function with 50% of its water supply turned off, due to construction of an 8-mile bypass tunnel around leaks downstream of the Delaware Aqueduct. Note that Water Tunnel No. 3 doesn’t fix this problem, as the new tunnel starts at the Westchester-Bronx border. So while this worthy investment will save water and provide resiliency for the water supply within the city, we still face challenges to come.