Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Mark Nowak makes this connection here…

The article entitled “Inside City’s Water Tanks, Layers of Neglect” was published by the New York Times on January 27th, 2014. Primarily the content of this article is hydrology based. Specifically it handles with the distribution and quality of water. In summary New York City has an extremely complex water delivery system originating at 19 protected reservoirs and lakes in upstate New York. Despite complexity, water delivered to buildings is remarkably clean. Due to the fact that water is delivered to the city by gravity, water mains may only supply water up the 6th floor of buildings. So for the large number of buildings over 6 stories tall, water is pumped to the roof where it is stored in quaint barrel like tanks. These tanks, which were the main target of the article, may in many cases have not been inspected or cleaned in years leading to sediment buildup and bacteria growth. The New York Times conducted 14 tests and found that 8 tested positive for coliform and 5 for E. Coli. This raised health concerns leading to confrontation of government officials and ultimately over $700,000 in fines. The main issue that came to be apparent was regulation of the codes already in place. Based on my engineering education it would seem this article is an accurate and valuable whistle blowing piece. According to Wurbs and James “Water quality management is concerned with the control of pollution from human activity so that the water is not degraded to the point that it is no longer suitable for intended uses” (Wurbs 12).  So therefore it becomes a major issue when water that is intended to be high quality is subject to contamination within the delivery system. Further, the New York City Health Code contains specific provisions to insure that rooftop tanks are operated safely. The code specifies that the tanks should be inspected on at least an annual basis, including a sampling of the water. Records of the inspections should be kept for at least 5 years and be available upon request to both residents and city officials. If a tank does not achieve code, the owner or person in control must take immediate action to correct the issue (“Health Code and Rules”). This article was accurate as far as the samples were concerned, but since it is a whistle blowing article it would seem more samples should have been taken to provide a larger sample size to support claims.

In terms of the broader context of Water Resource Engineering, this article focuses on the societal and economic impacts of this hydrology issue. Societally this article brings the quality of drinking water into the public eye. Often times it would seem that when a tap is turned on no one stops to think about where the water came from; just that it is clean and ready to drink. It can be seen that that is not always that case and that there is a social obligation of those who understand water to follow up on claims such as dirty water tanks. Economically, whenever there is infrastructure involved there’s money behind it. In this case there is an aging infrastructure of tanks and a lack of maintenance. This means fines, hiring of support workers, and water testing, all things that require capital. Needless to say this issue has economic implications. Water tank quality is a concept that has been explored before in Water Resources Research. It explored the “extent to which households in an urban area are willing to pay to ensure a fully reliable water supply when the latter induces changes in drinking water quality… The generalized use of cisterns and even water tanks helps residents cope with quantity shortages but has a negative effect on the quality of the water reaching their taps” (Genius).  Such issues will make a population more active in knowing about their water supply.  If there is a large societal urge to look into drinking water, the economics will be close to follow. Whenever there is a look into such issues, there must be studies done to inquire and help fix the issue. This water tank problem is no exception. When the public decides that their water quality must be looked into, someone, probably the building manager will be forced to hire an expert to inspect and create a report on the tanks.

SoHo skyline with a number of rooftop water towers.

SoHo skyline with a number of rooftop water towers.

Andre Kolakowski drained and cleaned a water tank.

Andre Kolakowski drained and cleaned a water tank.

References

Genius, Margarita, and Konstanitinos Tsagarkis. "Water shortages and implied water quality: A contingent valuation study." Water Resources Research 42.12 (2006): n. pag. Wiley Onlie Library. Web. 23 Feb. 2014. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.esf.idm.oclc.org/doi/10.1029/ 
2005WR004833/full#wrcr10744-sec-0003>. 
"Health Code and Rules." NYC Health. New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2014. http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/about/health-code.shtml.

Rivera, Ray, Frank Runyeon, and Russ Buettner. “Inside City’s Water Tanks, Layers of Neglect.” New York Times. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/27/nyregion/inside-citys-water-tanks-layers-of-neglect.html?_r=0.

Wurbs, Ralph, and Wesley James. Water Resource Engineering. N.p.: Pearson Education Inc., 2002. Print.
Advertisements