WATER FOR GOTHAM by Gerard T. Koeppel


A History
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Journalist-turned-historian Koeppel tells the story of how the nation's premier city built the water-delivery system that

enabled it to grow to world eminence.

It's hard to imagine a city without clean, drinkable water. It stagnates or dies. The best-known American case is Los Angeles:

without water from the mountains, the city in the oceanside desert would never have grown to its present size or stature. But then

neither would the greatest of American metropolises have become the city we know—and it almost didn't. The story of the

struggle to give New Yorkers what all of us take to be a natural birthright—water out of the tap in our homes and businesses—has

never until now been fully told. It's a typical New York tale of unlikely characters (some of them obscure; others, like the

egregious Aaron Burr, already infamous), years of political gridlock, jurisdictional disputes, conflicts between Albany and the

downstate powerhouse, and what Koeppel characterizes as “official dereliction of responsibility.” Like most American towns

in the early 19th century, New York relied largely on wells (many of them dating back to days of Peter Stuyvesant) for its water

supply. Yet the steady increase in population after 1800 (greatly accelerated following the completion of the Erie Canal in 1826)

stretched demand far beyond the capacity of Manhattan’s (exceptionally shallow) water table. In the early 1800s, New Yorkers

either had to add brandy or gin to their drinking water or (like the poor) run the risk of sickening and dying from drinking it

straight from dirty wells and reservoirs. The future of Gotham was in the balance, and without clean water, it's likely that the

city's famed commerce, money, and culture would have gone elsewhere. How different American history would then have been!

While excessively detailed and sometimes hard going, Koeppel's study should be read by all students of New York City and

all those who are caught by its spell.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-691-01139-7
Page count: 340pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2000


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