More on NYC’s plan to fix leaking Rondout-West Branch tunnel

Local residents got some long-awaited news Friday night when New York City revealed its $1.19 billion plans to repair its leaking Rondout-West Branch tunnel. That tunnel delivers more than half of NYC’s daily drinking water. Its two biggest leaks are along Route 209 in Wawarsing and in a little hamlet in Newburgh called Roseton. (That’s where Cedar Hill Cemetery is located, for those if you who are familiar with the Route 9W corridor.)

You can read all about the huge infrastructure project by clicking here.

And here’s a quick diagram of what the 3.5-mile bypass tunnel will look like. It will stretch from Newburgh under the Hudson River to Wappinger in Dutchess County:


There are a few important points to be made about the project that we couldn’t fit into the newspaper this morning. So here’s a quick rundown:

1) Since this particular tunnel delivers such a huge amount of water, NYC will be forced to scramble a bit to make up the water its losing during the eight- to 12-month shutdown. They have some plans. First, they’re finishing a filtration plant in the Bronx that will allow them to use more water from the Croton system, which is on the east side of the Hudson River.

That will still leave the city with about a 200 million gallon gap. Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Cas Holloway said part of that gap will be covered by reactivating a system of groundwater wells near Jamaica, Queens, which has been offline for a number of years. The rest, he hopes, will come from conservation of water or other sources that DEP is exploring.

2) The entire 45-mile stretch of the Rondout-West Branch will be shut down from 2018-2019 for the first time since 1957. (We mentioned that in today’s paper.) Some of you might have been puzzled by that, since we’ve written several times, including here, about the city shutting down the tunnel for repairs.

Here’s a little clarification: when NYC has shut down the tunnel in the past it’s only shut down portions of it. But those shutdowns were important for the huge project that’s about to begin in 2013. The sectional shutdowns allowed workers to install pumps in the dewatering shafts. Translation: they were installing equipment that will allow them to empty the entire tunnel in a few years to complete the big repairs.

3) Why 2013? The answer is simple. Holloway said NYC wanted to start the repair project before Mayor Mike Bloomberg left office to assure it gets finished. If the project gets started, Holloway said, it has to get finished. And there was no assurance that a future mayor wouldn’t change his mind and put the project on the back burner, he said.

“The mayor made a point of saying the key to the city’s future is strong infrastructure,” Holloway said.

4) So what happens between now and the project’s end in 2019? Holloway said the city will continue to provide UV filters and sump pumps to the homeowners in Wawarsing who’ve experience flooding and dirty drinking water because of the leak. He also said the city would invest in more projects to curb stormwater in the Route 209 corridor.

Wawarsing Supervisor Lenny Distel asked whether the town should be worried about more sinkholes forming, and he wondered out loud whether a sinkhole could gobble up Route 209.

Holloway said it’s an unlikely scenario. The tunnel has no holes in and dye tests have shown the leaks aren’t getting worse.

“There’s no indication that there’s an imminent threat of collapse,” Holloway said.

Stay tuned. I expect we’ll be reporting more on this project and its repercussions next week.


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