What is Inside Those N.Y.C. Drinking Water Sampling Stations?

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Ubiquitous articles of street furniture such as fireboxes and manhole covers endlessly fascinate me. Fire hydrants and mail boxes are so common that most don’t even notice them, whereas I have been known to literally send a congratulatory email to City Planning when a comely new design of street bench appears in Queens.

Something I’ve always been curious about, and I mean since I was a kid, is what might be going on inside those “N.Y.C. Drinking Water Sampling Stations” which you generally don’t notice that are found on certain streets in nearly every neighborhood. The one pictured above is located on 39th street, just south of Skillman Avenue at the border of Sunnyside.

From nyc.gov:

Water for the system is impounded in three upstate reservoir systems which include 19 reservoirs and three controlled lakes with a total storage capacity of approximately 580 billion gallons. The three water collection systems were designed and built with various interconnections to increase flexibility by permitting exchange of water from one to another. This feature mitigates localized droughts and takes advantage of excess water in any of the three watersheds.


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Every one of us lucky enough to live in Brooklyn or Queens has wondered about these things, and I suspect those from the Bronx and Staten Island do too. Manhattan folks have other things to think about, and no time for such trivial matters.

Seriously, though, what’s with these things?

From Wikipedia:

To enhance water quality monitoring in a drinking water network sampling stations are installed along the route of a water network. Water sampling stations are connected to next water main and have a little sink. Water samples are analyzed for bacteria, chlorine levels, pH, inorganic and organic pollutants, turbidity, odor, and many other water quality indicators.

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Luckily, while visiting everybody’s favorite sewer plant in Greenpoint on Newtown Creek business, I happened upon a display of one of these “Drinking Water Sampling Stations” set up as a display item by everyone’s friends at the NYC DEP.

Even luckier, it bore a card within it that carried a dry and entirely fact based recitation on the objects, their purpose, and the practices and goals of those who employ them. The information on the card said basically the same thing found at the link below. If you’re at all curious about how many of these units are installed citywide and how they’re used by our municipal employees to vouchsafe the quality of NYC drinking water, read on…

From nyc.gov:

The stations rise about 4 1/2 feet above the ground and are made of heavy cast iron. Inside, a 3/4 inch copper tube feeds water from a nearby water main into the station. Each station is equipped with a spigot from which water samples are taken. The total cost of the construction and installation of the stations was approximately 11 million dollars.

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So, mystery solved. If you want to see what’s inside of a modern NYC traffic light, I can help you out there too.

For you gear heads out there – check out page 137 of this product catalog from General Foundries, the company that manufactures these things as item NYCWSS1 for the city, for a schematic drawing.

Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman lives in Astoria and blogs at Newtown Pentacle.

One Comment

  • I’ve often wondered about these water sampling stations, so thanks for the info! They do also exist in Manhattan, at least in the Flatiron District where my office is located.