It’s responsible for the popularity of its bagels and pizza dough, and it’s practically famous in its own right.
New York City tap water is one of the strange bragging rights of the Big Apple, but some in the northwest Bronx and Manhattan have little to brag about when it comes to the water flowing from their spigots.
For the last few weeks, many like Shira Billet and husband Rabbi Steven Exler have found that their water tasted different, and not in a good way. The couple first noticed the change in what was being poured in their glasses around Nov. 15.
“The tap water in our apartment has changed taste and smell,” Exler said. “It smells and tastes musty and metallic. Apparently this is true throughout my building as well as in other places around the neighborhood.”
Many who shared that experience took to social media, describing the taste as moldy, soil-like and musty. Some speculated that building-top water tanks had grown mold, while others discussed flushing fire hydrants and changing water sources.
That led to calls into Councilman Andrew Cohen’s office, but he already had noticed a different taste in the water himself. He reached out to the city’s environmental protection department, which in turn pointed fingers to a likely culprit — a new source of tap water.
“I reached out to DEP, for good or for bad we have this Croton Filtration Plant and we’re getting our water from the Croton” watershed, he said. “Mostly we get our water from the Catskill Watershed and Delaware (Watershed). That’s the water we love.”
City spigots typically flow using a mix of three sources. The Delaware and Catskill watersheds are further upstate, and, at least according to those who drink it, have a cleaner, less offensive taste. Much of the Bronx and most of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island drink exclusively Delaware and Catskill water, according to the DEP website. All of Manhattan and parts of the Bronx drink a mix of all three.
Orange County’s newspaper, the Times Herald-Record reported in November that the Catskill Aqueduct would be closed for repairs for 10 weeks in preparation for a longer closure of the Delaware Aqueduct in 2022. That closure has likely resulted in the increase of Croton water.
The Croton Watershed, further downstate, usually provides a small percentage of drinking water to the city.
How much of which water source is flowing from New York’s reservoirs to the city can change even hourly, said DEP spokesman Edward Timbers. As the seasons change, water mixes within reservoirs, and that can adjust the taste.
New York City tests drinking water as many as 900 times daily from 1,200 sites, according to the city’s website, and that’s in addition to the testing that goes on in reservoirs and watersheds.
Billett reached out to 311 and was told the Croton reservoir is smaller, and that seasonal changes had shifted the water inside, stirring up dirt and sediment into the water and causing the strange taste. She was concerned, initially, that there had been a change in the source of her tap water, or that the source had changed without notification.
Soil conditions and minerals can make the reservoir water taste different, according to the DEP website. Extreme weather or changing seasons can make the change “more pronounced.”
DEP made some adjustments to the water flowing from faucets, and by Thanksgiving, Timbers said there were no complaints made to 311 about the tap water. According to OpenData, there had been more than 30 complaints about water quality from ZIP code 10463 to 311 between Nov. 11 and Nov. 26, with most coming from Riverdale and Spuyten Duyvil neighborhoods.
“I definitely feel like I can taste the difference, some people say they can,” Cohen said. “They are beyond 100 percent confident that the water is safe, all the systems are in place to test the water quality. According to DEP, it meets or exceeds all standards.”