Water Tunnel: A Government Success Story

Last week wasn’t a proud one for America’s federal government, was it? A badly divided Congress barely managed to cobble together an agreement to avoid an unprecedented default. Had it not managed to do so, some believe that the entire global financial system would have descended into chaos.

Many global rivals took advantage of the opportunity to criticize American democracy. The Chinese publication Xinhua, for instance, decried the actions of a “hypocritical nation” and called for “building a de-Americanized world.”

Despite all the hullaballoo about the fiscal crisis in Washington, though, an American government success story appeared in the headlines as well. A major segment of the largest construction project in the history of New York City was completed underneath Central Park.

It was New York City’s Water Tunnel 3, a $4.7 billion engineering marvel that is designed to satisfy the Big Apple’s water needs for the foreseeable future. For some reason, commentators in China (a nation faced with its own severe water crises) declined to take note of this success story.

New York City, of course, has been faced with the challenge of establishing a reliable water supply since its days as a colonial city. By the 1700s, New Yorkers had turned their original Collect Pond water reservoir into “a very sink and common sewer.”

They then turned to Aaron Burr, a political leader, to create a public company that would pipe fresh water from the Hudson Valley to Manhattan. Burr, seeking to maximize his corporate profits, decided to use the water company’s surplus capital to launch a major bank instead.

What happened then? Burr went on to become the third President of the United States, serving under Thomas Jefferson. He later shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury Secretary in United States history, in a duel and subsequently sank into penury, illness, and death. And Burr’s Manhattan Bank grew into Chase Manhattan Bank, which then evolved into today’s JP Morgan Chase.

New York City went on to build a series of water reservoirs and tunnels, but its water supply remained at risk until Mayor Michael Bloomberg opened the water spigot on Tunnel 3 last week. It may have been a bad week for America’s federal government, but it was a very good one for its municipal leaders.