What lies beneath: NY’s plumbing problems

I’m in the process of redecorating my upstairs bathroom (scraping old wallpaper, spackling, painting, new floor, new fixtures, new color scheme, etc), but try as I might, I can’t ignore the fact that the sink faucet is leaking and getting worse no matter which deft trick I try when shutting it off. Time for the plumber. It turns out we’ve got the same problem with our infrastructure… to the tune of millions of gallons of water being lost from New York City’s aging reservoir conduits.

    Two hours north of New York City, in the Ulster County town of Wawarsing, a mile-long stream and a marsh the size of a football field have mysteriously formed along a country road. They are such a marvel that people come from miles around to drink the crystal-clear water, believing it is bubbling up from a hidden natural spring. The truth is far less romantic: The water is coming from a cracked 70-year-old tunnel hundreds of feet below ground, scientists say. The tunnel is leaking up to 36 million gallons a day as it carries drinking water from a reservoir to the big city. It is a powerful warning sign of a larger problem around the country: The infrastructure that delivers water to the nation’s cities is badly aging and in need of repairs.

36 million gallons! A day! But Syracuse’s water infrastructure is also complex, and water pipes are everywhere under our feet. Just up the street from me, Onondaga County’s water supply from Otisco Lake passes through a tract once known as “Lake Lawns.” I always used to wonder “where’s the lake?” Well, if that thing ever springs a leak, just wait for it! Not exactly any danger of the Johnstown Flood here, but one wonders… (For a good history of Syracuse’s water supply and especially information on the water service history of the western suburbs, see this page at OCWA.)

I also went to Carousel for the first time in a long while this past weekend to find that DestiNY’s munchkins had been all through the place painting in a new green and yellow color scheme and some pretty silly Burma-Shave-style messages along the walkways. All that was missing were the giant lollipops. While I marveled at the logistics of the new paint job, I did start to feel like I was in a huge Sprite commercial (or at least, it got me thinking about green lemons). It made me wonder at many recycled-paper press releases and fluttering banners we’ve seen in the sunshine, with little or no talk about what lies beneath. With all this talk about saving the Earth, let’s not forget that She doesn’t give a damn about the works of man.

3 thoughts on “What lies beneath: NY’s plumbing problems

  1. sean

    i don’t know why, but your post reminds me of a favorite story from niagara falls. i was there in the days when love canal had newly been evacuated, when poisoned earth was causing evacuation of the forest glen tract, and it was about this time that people reached a point of complete exasperation with buffalo avenue.

    buffalo avenue was the main drag past the chemical plants along the river, a major entranceway to the city, and it had reached a point where its potholes were car-wrecking terrible. the city, however, couldn’t really fix it, because to do it right meant tearing up the road – and everyone knew, once they tore it up, that the ground underneath would be sick with chemicals, and that would demand a cleanup of countless millions …

    so the city patched the potholes, and let the road be.

    somehow that seems related to a atrociously leaking water system in a nation where we all know fresh water is increasingly precious … remember the moment in ‘dune,’ tale of the desert planet, where a guy pours a glass of water onto the ground out of arrogance and contempt? we can knock ralph nader all we want, but one point he makes – compellingly – is that the fortune we’ve spent in iraq would have been better used to employ an army of the unemployed and get to work repairing the infrastructure of our cities, sort of a civilian conservation corps for 2008 …

    but we don’t. and you’re right. the united states is leaking.


  2. Ellen

    Maybe that is a signature problem of New York as a whole, we are very rich in resources but there are just so many problems that are buried beneath the surface, from the historical problems with mis-acquired Indian land, the water, the toxic waste sites… in fact it speaks to America’s problems as a whole. There’s a part of America that wants to “move on” and repaint the country green (or paint over black and white differences), but then there’s also the part that hears the “drip…drip…drip…” (of both physical and justice problems)

    Anyhow, I’m hoping a fresh coat of paint will give me some temporary mental strength to tackle larger projects in the house that need to be done and have been long neglected. There’s something to be said for that, as long as it doesn’t stop there.

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