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Cease-Fire in the Water War

from the magazine

Cease-Fire in the Water War

Winter 1995
Technology and Innovation

In 1993, the Environmental Protection Agency, which administers the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, presented New York City with an unappetizing choice. It could spend $8 billion building massive filtration plants. Or—using the city's authority under state law to regulate the region that supplies its water—it could impose draconian landuse restrictions in the 2,000squaremile, sevencounty upstate watershed. (See "New York's Needless War over Water," City Journal, Winter 1994.)

New York doesn't have an extra $8 billion, and the new landuse regulations would worsen cityupstate tensions. But the dilemma resulted from federal regulatory overkill: the Catskills/Delaware area that supplies 90 percent of the city's water is virtually pristine. Happily, the Giuliani administration chose a prudent middle course. It is buying land near reservoirs and upgrading its wastewater treatment plants along watershed tributaries. It also won a waiver from federal rules until the end of 1996, when it can apply for an extension. The mayor stood his ground against a powerful environmentalist lobby, led by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s organization Hudson Riverkeeper. He thereby saved the city billions and spared upstaters from onerous regulations.

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