Drinking Water Storage Will be Under Greater Scrutiny for Health of At-Risk New Yorkers

New York City Hall — The City Council today approved a bill that will require New York City to have greater oversight on more than 10,000 water tanks throughout the five boroughs. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) must conduct strict audits on inspection reports, as well as conduct surprise inspections on these tanks to ensure they’re free of debris, sediments, or harmful toxins.

Council Members Costa Constantinides, Ritchie Torres and Mark Levine introduced the bill last August in partnership with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. Passage of Intro. 1056 on Thursday was part of a sweeping legislative package led by Speaker Corey Johnson to clean up New York City’s water tanks.

“Clean drinking water is a fundamental human right, and New York City must ensure its citizens aren’t put at risk every time they open a faucet,” said Council Member Costa Constantinides, Chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection. “In the wake of disturbing news reports on what’s in these water tanks, the City Council has responded to make sure no one is endangered when they go for a glass of water. I want to thank Council Members Torres and Levine as well as Borough President Diaz Jr. for their partnership on this necessary legislation.”

“Ensuring that the water flowing from New Yorkers’ taps is of the highest possible quality is a vital public health and safety priority,” said Council Health Chair Mark Levine. “When not properly maintained, water tanks have been found to contain debris, bacteria, and parasites. The goal of these bills is to make sure New Yorkers are confident in the quality of the water coming out of their taps. By strengthening our inspection regime, and ensuring that building owners are held accountable for violating their legal obligation to properly inspect, clean, and maintain their water tanks, we can reassure New Yorkers that their water is safe to drink.”

“Water tanks can be breeding grounds for all sorts of nastiness, such as Legionnaires’ disease and other harmful bacteria, as well as dirt, toxins, dead animals and other unwelcome items no one wants in their drinking water. This legislation will help keep New Yorkers’ water supply safe and provide a new measure of transparency regarding water tank inspections, and I am pleased to see it passed today. I want to thank Council Members Costa Constantinides, Ritchie Torres and Mark Levine, as well as the entire City Council, for their partnership on this important public health issue,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

Many buildings over seven stories tall require tanks to store water for drinking, bathing, and other uses. These mostly cedar structures were hardly regulated until about a decade ago, when New York required they be annually inspected. Yet, a series of City & State reports last year found dead pigeons, squirrels, and roaches regularly floated around in the tanks, which directly poured into New Yorkers’ faucets. A loophole allowed inspections to occur immediately after the tank was cleaned every year, providing an inaccurate picture of what people drink on a daily basis. Landlords are also required to provide documentation proving tanks are free of toxins, sediments or bacteria, yet City & State found fewer than half did so between 2015 and 2017.

Passage of Intro. 1056 adds greater pressure on these owners to guarantee tanks are regularly maintained. First, DOHMH must audit water tank inspection documents that landlords are required to submit every year, and may do so at random without prior notice. The agency has to also conduct 125 random, surprise tank inspections annually to get a clearer picture of what’s inside water tanks. Both audit and inspection results must be posted online within 35 days of their being conducted.

Council Member Costa Constantinides represents the New York City Council’s 22nd District, which includes his native Astoria along with parts of Woodside, East Elmhurst, and Jackson Heights. He serves as the chair the City Council’s Environmental Protection Committee and sits on four additional committees: Sanitation, Resiliency, and Land Use, as well as the sub-committee on Zoning and Franchises. For more information, visit council.nyc.gov/costa.