New Manhattan water tunnel makes progress

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, center, arrives for a press

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, center, arrives for a press conference in a Department of Environmental Protection sectionalization chamber underneath Central Park to announce the completion and activation of the Manhattan portion of New York City's third water tunnel in Manhattan. (Oct. 16, 2013) Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

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Manhattan has the same great-tasting water New Yorkers have come to expect when they turn on their taps, but now it's delivered through a 21st century system.

The city's Department of Environmental Protection Wednesday completed the second phase of its much-delayed project to create a new water tunnel that will alleviate the stress of its aging infrastructure.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg activated the second part of Water Tunnel No. 3, which until Wednesday served only northern Manhattan, Astoria and some of the Bronx by delivering water from a Yonkers reservoir.

Bloomberg said the upgrade is significant because now all of Manhattan will no longer be dependent on Water Tunnel No. 1, which was created in 1917 and now needs maintenance. "Millions of New Yorkers and visitors from the Battery all of the way to up Central Park will have a reliable supply of water," the mayor said.

Work on the tunnel, which will eventually stretch 32 miles through four boroughs, began in the 1970s, but funding dried up and delayed completion.

The plan -- one of the city's largest infrastructure projects, which has cost $4.7 billion so far -- finished its first stage in 1998. Work on the now-completed phase two, which covers the rest of Manhattan, began in 2003.

Bloomberg said he made it a priority to speed up the construction because of the age of Water Tunnel No. 1 -- one of only two clean-water tunnels.

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Although the nearly century-old system doesn't have any major problems, the mayor said the city shouldn't depend on it 100 percent. "If we were to lose one of the tunnels without backup, that part of the city would be uninhabitable," he said.

Work is already underway on the third phase of Tunnel No. 3, which would connect Brooklyn and Queens to the system. Officials said construction would be complete by 2021 at the earliest.

DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland said crews will temporarily shut down Tunnel No. 1 to make sure it is safe and up to date. "Water is the lifeblood of New York City. None of the businesses, landmarks or attractions that make New York City the best city in the world . . . would be possible without clean water," he said.

The tunnel and other DEP projects were funded by hikes in the water rates, and the mayor acknowledged that New Yorkers had to pay a high price to maintain a high quality of water.

He assured them that the investment has paid off. "We should be able to sleep easier because of this," Bloomberg said.

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