Watering New York

Part of the Water: H2O = Life exhibition.

Water is a problem in regions across the globe, but every community--including New York--has unique concerns. Solutions then must begin close to home, addressing local issues with sustainable, appropriate action. What are people doing in your neighborhood?

Ron and Kathryn K., Huguenot Street Farm, New Paltz, NY

Kathryn: "My husband and I have a spring that we developed into a small pond and we irrigate the whole farm out of the pond. We buried 4,000 feet of pipe and have electronic valves and a central control unit so we can perfectly control and adjust how much water is put down for each crop. That way we can also adjust for the fact that some parts of the farm dry out more quickly than other parts."

Ron: "We have real sandy soil on our farm so the temptation is to water all the time, because it dries out so fast. But then you end up washing your nutrients right out, and that's expensive. The trick is to put down less water--but more often. We started using "micro-sprinklers" because they let us irrigate defined areas with a perfectly consistent amount of water per minute. It's made all the difference in our carrots. With micro-sprinklers and automatic timers, we get sweeter carrots to our customers with less wasted water and nutrient costs to us. "

Eliana T., High School Senior, Port Washington, NY

"I grew up in Port Washington, Long Island, which has a beautiful bay and beach area, but trash can sometimes be a problem. Water bottles and other garbage end up in our bay and scattered all over our beaches. I know that at my school, students consume huge amounts of bottled water and other drinks without really thinking about it. This isn't a sustainable way of doing things. We can't go on drinking bottled water forever or we're going to have to start building our houses out of old bottles!

What I'm trying to do is start selling stainless steel water bottles at school that people can fill from water fountains. If we present it as a big scary global issue, people aren't sure what to do. But if you just hand them a water bottle, then they're like, 'Oh, ok.'"

Peter Hoffman, Chef-owner of Savoy, New York, NY

"When I was in high school in New Jersey, I went out with some shad fishermen in the Hudson River and I was totally blown away by the miracle that lay beneath the surface of the water. There were so many different, healthy species of fish! Most of us aren't aware what's going on down there. When someone clear-cuts a forest, you can see it. But when someone clear-cuts the ocean bottom, in effect, you don't see it but the damage is the same.

So when I opened Savoy, I was interested in the tie between what we do as food consumers and our effect on the ecosystem in a larger way. The menu is all about sustainable, seasonal cooking. In the spring, we might serve shad caught locally, and at other times of the year, it might be striped bass instead. This way, we look forward to the return of one fish or another instead of feeling that everything in life is always readily available."

Ed Clerico, Water resource engineer for The Solaire, Battery Park City, New York, NY

"What we've basically done is created a manmade water cycle. In the end, The Solaire uses about 50 percent less water than similar buildings and discharges 60 percent less wastewater. A reservoir in the basement collects wastewater and sends it through a biological treatment process to take out the contaminants and treat the water so it's crystal clear, odor-free and safe. As people flush toilets, or the cooling towers need water, the system reuses treated water.

And we're not asking anyone to give anything up. The truth is you really don't need to use potable water for a lot of the things it's traditionally used for. In fact, it makes no sense. It's antiquated thinking."

Macceau Médozile, Conservation Manager, NYC Parks and Recreation/Bronx River Alliance, Bronx, NY

"The Bronx River has a history of pollution and degradation. So many natural areas adjacent to the river have been used to dump tires, batteries and household waste. Those pollutants affect the health of the soil, the sediment, the water. They disturb the trees and the plants. Today, we work regularly with the local community to remove tons of debris from the river. But when we're talking about the Bronx River, we're really talking about the entire watershed. Materials dumped upstream flow down to us, so we've been working with government agencies and environmental groups in the watershed to slow down the contaminants coming downriver.

Now, people know the Bronx River is the only freshwater river in New York City and they understand it's a resource. While we're trying to make the river cleaner, we're also trying to make the river available for people to enjoy."

Juliane S.-L., Homeowner, Port Washington, NY

"I grew up in Germany and my parents had a water barrel since you don't have to pay for rainwater. You just collect it and put it on your garden. And by using rainwater you're reducing your use of the drinking water. I use rainwater to grow currants, berries, fruit trees, tomatoes, pumpkins, peppers, basil, rhubarb and flowers too. Since I eat that food, I also don't put any toxins on it or spray anything with chemicals. This is just how I grew up. It's so logical. It's mind-boggling that others don't do this."

Louie Huang, Chief of Waterworks Construction, NYC Department of Environmental Protection, New York, NY

"City Water Tunnel No. 3 is one of the largest civil projects in the world. We really owe it to the foresight of past generations who saw the need to obtain dependable, reliable water for the city, and more recently to Mayor Bloomberg, who has made completing the tunnel a central priority of his PlaNYC agenda.

Currently, Tunnels No. 1 and No. 2, along with the New Croton Aqueduct, supply the city with 1.1 billion gallons of water per day. Even though we believe those tunnels to be in fine shape, they are very old--they were opened in 1917 and 1936--and some of the mechanical components will need to be upgraded or rebuilt. We should also have some redundancy in the system. Tunnel No. 3 will allow us to take the old tunnels out of service and inspect them. If we wait until there's a problem, it'll be too late."