A Wet 'n' Wild Press Junket

The city's Department of Environmental Protection is preparing itself for a public drubbing, come May. That's when hearings will be held by the Water Board in all five boroughs, over a proposed water rate hike of 12.9%. The rate is set to go up as of July, and one imagines that there aren't that many citizen-defenders of the increase lining up.

In anticipation of the criticism, the DEP is trying to build up goodwill for the multi-billion dollar projects it's undertaking. Yesterday a bunch of reporters and photographers were given a tour of the Croton Water Filtration plant, which is under construction in the Bronx and which has added $177 to the average household's annual water bill.

Bottom line of the press junket: Here are your rate hike dollars at work.

photos by Arun Venugopal

The Croton plant is in the Bronx, a few steps from the end of the No. 4 subway line. Right now, the nine-acre project zone is chaotic: Cement trucks drive in and out, along with front loaders, and there are about two dozen cranes looming over the site. In time, however, the $2.8 billion project will be invisible, as the filtration plant will be concealed beneath a driving range. The DEP says the plant's green roof--essentially the grassy lawns for all those golf balls--will be the largest in the city.

Water has been flowing through the area from upstate for years. In 1890, the New Croton Aqueduct was constructed, and that's been in use since then, having replaced the original Croton Aqueduct, which was completed in 1842. But the DEP says new, elaborate filtration systems are required to bring the city in line with federal EPA standards. The new plant will also have an ultra-violet irradiation system, to destroy giardia parasites and other evil things.

Currently about 1,000 workers work on the site, above ground as well as in the subterranean tunnels that we sloshed through. We even encountered the legendary Sand Hogs, who despite their TV fame (on cable, apparently), are as friendly as they are mud-splattered. The crews are currently drilling through rock, laying the 40-foot-long sections of pipe through which water will eventually flow. How much water, you ask? Well, about 290,000,000 gallons a day, just under a third of the billion gallons the city needs for its drinking, washing, cooking and assorted recreational needs.

In order to surface, we loaded ourselves, six at a time, into a tiny cage, that was swooped up into the air, by crane, way above the work site. We peered through the wire mesh of the cage, out over the site and beyond its borders, upon the parks that surround the plant. I've taken the Roosevelt Island tram but I've never experienced the city from a crane-lifted cage.

"Was that fun?" we were asked as we disembarked. The DEP was hoping we weren't merely edified, but entertained by the experience. And they're hoping some of that will ultimately filter (so to speak) into the general public, as it starts grappling with that 12.9% rate hike.

Here is the list of public hearings:

Staten Island
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Doors open at 7:00 pm, public hearing at 8:00 pm.
Wagner High School
1200 Manor Road
Staten Island, NY 10314

Thursday, May 6, 2010
Doors open at 6:00 pm, public hearing at 7:00 pm.
Public School 14
3041 Bruckner Blvd.
Bronx, NY 10461

Friday, May 7, 2010
Doors open at 1:30 pm, public hearing at 2:00 pm.
City Planning Commission
22 Reade Street
New York, NY 10007

Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Doors open at 6:00 pm, public hearing at 7:00 pm.
Edison High School
165-65 84th Avenue
Jamaica, NY 11432

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010
Doors open at 6:00 pm, public hearing at 7:00 pm.
Public School 124
40 Division Street
New York, NY 10002

Thursday, May 13th, 2010
Doors open at 6:00 pm, public hearing at 7:00 pm.
Public School 102
211 72nd Street
Brooklyn, NY 11209