Perhaps only Volki will have the patience and interest to read this very long piece in The New Yorker
about the water tunnels under Manhattan, published in 2003. I've read about these tunnels and the sand hogs, but I guess I missed this fascinating and worthy read.
City Of Water ...
Until that moment, I had only heard tales of New York City’s invisible empire, an elaborate maze of tunnels that goes as deep as the Chrysler Building is high. Under construction in one form or another for more than a century, the system of waterways and pipelines spans thousands of miles and comprises nineteen reservoirs and three lakes. Two main tunnels provide New York City with most of the 1.3 billion gallons of water it consumes each day, ninety per cent of which is pumped in from reservoirs upstate by the sheer force of gravity. Descending through aqueducts from as high as fourteen hundred feet above sea level, the water gathers speed, racing down to a thousand feet below sea level when it reaches the pipes beneath the city.
It is a third water tunnel, however, that is the most critical. Designed to meet expanding demand and to serve as a backup system in case something ever happens to City Tunnel No. 1 or City Tunnel No. 2, City Tunnel No. 3 has been under development since 1969, and was initially billed as “the greatest nondefense construction project in the history of Western Civilization.” Already, twenty-four people have died building it—roughly a man a mile—and it is not expected to be completed until 2020.
As an engineering feat, the water-tunnel system rivals the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal. Yet it has the odd distinction that almost no one will ever see it, save for the sandhogs who are building it. Over the years, the men have constructed an entire city under the city, a subterranean world as cluttered as the Manhattan skyline: it includes four hundred and thirty-eight miles of subway lines, six thousand miles of sewers, and thousands of miles of gas mains. “If it’s deeper than a grave,” sandhogs often say, “then we built it.” The water tunnels have become the sandhogs’ greatest and most elusive achievement, an often deadly effort that has consumed generations. “I’ll take you down there if you want,” Jimmy Ryan had said when I asked him to show me the tunnel’s newest section. “But, trust me, it ain’t like Macy’s down there.” ...
The valves were designed, Ryan said, to open and close guillotine-like gates inside the cylindrical tunnels, stopping the flow of water. But they had become so brittle with age that they were no longer operable. “They’re afraid if they try to shut the valves they won’t be able to turn ’em back on,” Ryan said.
He wiped some mud from his eyes. “Look,” he said. “If one of those tunnels goes, this city will be completely shut down. In some places there won’t be water for anything. Hospitals. Drinking. Fires. It would make September 11th look like nothing.”
Democracy is a garden that has to be tended. -Barack Obama