What Makes NYC's Tap Water So Good?

New York City has long boasted "the best water in the world" runs from its taps, but what makes it so good and how do we keep it that way? CBS2's Vanessa Murdock reports.

Video Transcript

- New York City has long boasted the best water in the world runs from its taps, but what makes it so good? And how do we keep it that way?

- We went right to the source to find out, and CBS 2's Vanessa Murdoch has a story.

- Feast your eyes on the source of New York City tap water. Roughly two hours north of the Big Apple and beyond, nestled in the Bucolic countryside of the Catskill Mountains sit the Catskills and Delaware watersheds. The origin of the best water in the world.

MARIA GARCIA: I will not drink tap water anywhere else. Only in New York City.

ERIC GOLDSTEIN: Some folks say, more valuable in the 21st century than oil. It's a plentiful supply due to the vision of the people that built this system in the early 1800s.

- We stood on the banks of the Neversink Reservoir in Grahamsville, New York with Paul Rush, deputy commissioner for Bureau of Water Supply with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. He explained, it's not the city producing high quality water.

- It's the landscape. It's the environment, and it's working with the people who actually live in the watershed.

- Protecting the precious resource from contamination is top priority. The DEP has spent more than $1 billion acquiring land and easements to limit encroachment. A dedicated police force patrols infrastructure from the air, on water, and the periphery. Swimming beneath the surface, fish, critical in detecting biological terrorism.

Like actual fish we're talking about?

- Actually fish, yes. We monitor how it swims, if it coughs, and changes the behavior to pick up on possible contamination.

- DEP also works closely with farms in the watershed to reduce runoff.

Thunder View Farms in Grahamsville is home to about 400 Angus cattle.

RIC COOMBE: Anything that happens on our farm could be in the New York City terminal reservoir in less than 24 hours, So it was very important for us to be an active participant.

- All cattle are fenced out of streams. Their water gets pumped in. The farm exercises rotational grazing. All manure gets captured in winter time and is spread only when weather permits. In addition, more than 1,000 DEP employees help ensure the safety and quality of the drinking water from source to sink. One of them, Lori Emery, Director of Water Quality and Innovation.

LORI EMERY: It's pretty much just pure water from mountain streams and reservoirs.

- 90% unfiltered. What starts here in the Catskills gets tested by scientists and robots. Look out in the distance. Floating on the Never Sink is DEP's continuous monitoring system. Sensors sit beneath the surface.

- Measure in real time turbidity, temperature, conductivity.

- The data helps make a decision on not just which reservoir to ship water from, but also, from what depth. From the watershed, water travels via aqueduct south.

- We disinfect the water with chlorine, but we also built the world's largest ultraviolet disinfection facility.

- It's in Westchester County. Water passes under UV light, and pathogens get washed away.

- My biggest concern long term is climate change.

- Rush says, the system is sensitive to storms, and in years to come, stronger storms are expected with greater frequency.

- And those bigger storm events result in runoff that can cause turbidity. It can cause fine materials, clays, to get suspended in the water.

- The New York City DEP is investing in research and modeling to understand all possibilities, so that 100 years from now, New York City tap water can still live up to being the best water in the world.

- I love it.

- From Sullivan County, New York, Vanessa Murdoch, CBS 2 News.

- And the city's Department of Environmental Protection is also looking into using canines to sniff out human waste that might be creeping into the water shed. No wonder it's so good, right?

- Right?

- All those moving parts working in sync.

- Yes, definitely. I've gone canoeing and some of the reservoirs up there. And if you take your canoe out of the water and bring it back home, you have to then have it steamed before you return it back into the water. That's how careful they are up there.

- Wow, hopefully, it was clean going in to begin with.

- Well, you have to have it steamed, right? Any time you take it off, yeah, unless you leave it there by the banks. You got to have it steamed.

- So telling.

- It is. They got to protect that water.