Photo by Flickr user naotakem/used under Creative Commons license.

Water, that most precious of resources, is plentiful in New York and may one day be the state’s salvation, given the severe droughts affecting huge swaths of the Southeast, Midwest and Far West. Kingston is fortunate in having one of the very best systems in the region, thanks to the foresight of city fathers over a century ago. While surrounding communities rely on shallow municipal wells or filtered water from the Hudson River, Kingston’s water is sourced from a mountain stream in the Catskills. It is clear, lacks any bad taste or odor, soft (which means it lathers well and doesn’t corrode appliances), pure — it has a pH of 6.8, just a tad on the acidic side of 7, which is neutral — and plentiful; Cooper Lake reservoir, a picturesque body of water surrounded by mountains in Lake Hill, holds the equivalent of a year’s supply.

The system, which was established 123 years ago, consists of a series of gravity-fed reservoirs and pipes. No pumps are needed to get to the water to the city; once here, the water is delivered by gravity to 80 percent of customers (the remaining 20 percent get their water pumped from two tanks). The original infrastructure has held up well, including the historic 1899 Edmund T. Cloonan Treatment Facility, which is constructed out of bluestone.

Regulated by the state Department of Health, Kingston’s water is tested regularly for 80 contaminants (the frequency depends on the substance); those that are detected appear on the annual report sent to customers. The contaminants, which include chloride, lead and copper, routinely test well below the acceptable levels. In this year’s report, only coliforms, naturally occurring bacteria, exceeded the acceptable levels in three samples, a problem that was solved by “flushing and adjusting the disinfectant residuals,” according to the report.

That’s not to say maintaining the system doesn’t come with a significant price tag. Damage to the dam and intake facility at Mink Hollow Creek from two floods in 2010 necessitated a complete replacement; construction of the new intake dam was completed last March at a cost of $1.04 million. Another major upgrade was the construction of an ultraviolet-light disinfection system at the Binnewater Reservoir to comply with new federal requirements; that project was completed last November and cost $2.8 million. Such unforeseen expenses make higher rate increases likely.