Water Watch NYC

Everything you need to know about water in NYC.


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DEP and Water Board Agree: Revenue Good (But What’s Conservation?)

The DEP has been promoting water conservation for two decades, since the droughts of the 1980s.  But June 17, 2011, the Water Board’s last meeting of the fiscal year, marked the end of an era of “conservation” rhetoric. Gone are the days of saving water and taxpayer money. The future is all about increased sales and maximum revenue: consumption, not conservation.

Source: NYC Water Board Financial Update – 6/7/2011

According to their financial presentation, the DEP collected $2.68 billion from residents last year and surpassed their own revenue projections by 2%. The good news: that’s the first time since 2005 that they haven’t made less money than hoped. The bad news: that’s also almost nine billion more gallons of water used, plus the $51 million more that taxpayers coughed up to pay for it. So why, after worshiping ‘less is more,’ are more water and more revenue suddenly a triumph? Over the past ten years, usage decreased for all but two of them (see the Water Board’s report, page 29). Now, with our water use back up to near 2009 levels, water is just a stream of revenue again.

Pay no attention to how our water rates are higher than ever, every year. (This year’s 7.5% hike to $8.21 is somehow the lowest rate hike since 2006.) All that seems to matter to the DEP and Water Board is that more people get more water and pay more and more for it. The leading concern of the Water Board, according to their Mission Statement, is whether “revenue collections will satisfy revenue requirements of the [Water and Sewer] System.”

The only kind of waste that makes sense in this System is wasted potential: water not sold, consumption not metered, bills not paid. More revenue can be good for the whole city. It just depends on why there’s more of it. More paying customers come naturally with more people in the city, which in turn requires expanded services. Still, the DEP has maintained that distributing more water will bring down its cost to residents. The ‘reduced increase’ of this year’s rate seems to corroborate that a bit, yet the DEP can only continue to reap increasing revenue at the increased expense of residents. Is such public service really self-service or endless debt service? For instance, are “same-customer sales” a real measure of success for a public agency? Does the fact that each customer paid (on average) 19.2% more in October 2010 to use 6% more water than in October 2009 constitute a win for New York City?

As it is, revenue maximization is our current course. Meanwhile, conservation is a promised land saved for rainy days. Where we’ll end up, though, depends on who adjusts the sails.


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Guilty Until Proven Innocent? The DEP Thinks So!

A new feature to the water/sewer rate schedule was discussed at Friday’s (February 27) Water Board meeting. It was proposed that New Yorkers who deny the DEP access to their premises be penalized and automatically switched to the highest possible rate.

Water Board Executive Director Steven Lawitts (he’s also the Acting Commissioner of the DEP) explained it this way (and I’m paraphrasing): If they’re not letting us in, it must be because there is some funny business going on. They’re probably bypassing the meter and using water that they’re not being charged for and they don’t want us to know. Therefore, they deserve to get penalized.

Sure, a penalty is not a bad idea. But it just rubs me the wrong way that the DEP and the Water Board think that it’s ok to assume that someone is stealing water just because access is being denied.

(Just a side note: If you happen to take a look at the DEP website, you’ll notice in the “Service Advisories” section on the right side of the homepage a message that warns people to be wary of “impersonators posing as DEP Employees.” Can you really assume that DEP employees are being denied access to buildings because of theft when the DEP itself is warning people about the potential dangers of letting DEP employees into your building?)

There is another problem here as well. A policy that the DEP claims will be put into use to penalize customers and ensure access will no doubt turn into just another way for the DEP to unfairly raise capital. They have done the same thing with the surcharge for unmetered buildings and the original plan, to ensure that all buildings install water meters, turned into just another revenue stream.

I’m not one to throw around indiscriminate criticism. I mention this because I believe there is a better way of handling it. It is true that there is a problem when the DEP is denied access to a meter. They are forced to estimate consumption and could end losing a lot of money with an inaccurate estimate. (They can also end up charging too much, another scenario that should be avoided.) But instead of the unjust penalty that the Water Board and DEP were discussing last week, why not just issue an Environmental Control Board (“ECB”) violation that states that if access is not granted within a fixed period of time then a penalty will be issued and hopefully one that’s a little more reasonable than the bill cap rate, maybe something in the range of $250 to $1,000.


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DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd Resigns

I just returned from a Water Board meeting where I received independent corroboration of a tip that I received on Wednesday: Emily Lloyd, Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, has indeed resigned.

Lloyd became DEP Commissioner back in 2005. Prior to that she had been Commissioner of the Department of Sanitation, director of business development at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and commissioner of traffic and parking for the city of Boston.

In the private sector, she had been executive vice president for government and community affairs and for administration at Columbia University. She leaves the DEP to go back into the private sector; she’s been hired by Trinity Real Estate either as a CEO (the New York Daily News reports) or as a COO (the New York Observer Reports).

(UPDATE 1/29/09: Recently approved Water Board minutes confirm that Lloyd has taken the position of Chief Operating Officer, as the New York Observer has reported.)

There is no indication that she was forced out of her position.

As all this is going on, the DEP’s Deputy Commissioner, Steve Lawitts, is biking through Amsterdam.


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The Uncertain Future of Frontage

Back in June, the DEP announced that fiscal year 2009 would be the last year of frontage billing. Since that time, neither the DEP nor the Water Board has done anything to inform the public about how this will play out. This left us in the water industry puzzled. Was there going to be a new program to replace frontage? Was every building on frontage going to be automatically switched to metered billing? Maybe the buildings on frontage were going to automatically be switched to the Multi Family Conservation Program. The answer to every frontage-related question in the industry became “Well, we’ll just have to wait and see.”

For months, I and others in my position alienated clients by telling them we just didn’t have any answers to their questions, while the decision makers trolled along doing nothing. Now, at this morning’s Water Board meeting, the DEP announced that they will be extending frontage for one more year.

Besides the indifference that this shows for the people of New York and besides the blatant disregard for the DEP’s announcement in June (reminds me of when they said a rate increase of 11.5% for three years would suffice and then went and raised rates by 14.5% a year later), how can the DEP and the Water Board go forward with this plan without going through the normal process already in place for changing water rates? Reinstating frontage without having the usual formal announcements and Water Board meeting in each borough is just another example of the DEP using the Water Board to circumvent rules that were put in place in order to protect New Yorkers.


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The Resignation of Jim Tripp

New York City Water Board Chairman James Tripp announced his resignation at this morning’s Water Board meeting. Mr. Tripp has an extensive history with the environmental industry, serving as counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund for 35 years. In 1986 he received the New York State Bar Association’s Robert C. Stover Environmental Advocate Award for his efforts to protect the environment via his capacity as a lawyer.

When he joined the Water Board 16 years ago, Mr. Tripp began with a very idealistic approach but was quickly rebuffed by the daunting task of managing a multi-million dollar budget.

We at WaterWatchNYC commend him for his service to the people of New York and wish him luck in all his future endeavors.

Mr. Tripp has been replaced by current Water Board member Alan Moss.


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Notice is Hereby Given

The DEP website recently posted information about the public hearings that the Water Board will be having concerning their proposed midyear rate hike. There will be one meeting in each of the five boroughs on either December 13 or 14. To find out the exact time and location of the meeting in your borough, click here.

These are the meetings that will determine the magnitude of the rate hike so all are encouraged to attend and voice their opinion. For those that wish to testify at the hearing, there is applicable information at the bottom of the page linked to above.


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Indiscriminate Water Board Spending

As the group that oversees the DEP, one would think that one of the major jobs of the Water Board would be to constantly audit the DEP’s $2 billion budget. Not only do they not audit the budget of the DEP, they are, as Marilyn Gelber, former DEP Commissioner and current Water Board member, pointed out, constantly hearing proposals that should be directed at the DEP.

Like any city agency, there is a procedure that must be followed whenever the DEP would like to hire a company to do something. For example, a company must be able to do everything the DEP wants at the lowest price.

The Water Board, on the other hand, does not have this restriction. They are free to hire anyone they want at any price.

It is for this reason that at almost every Water Board meeting, not only is the DEP budget never discussed, but also, companies that wish to secure a city contract without going through the necessary procedures simply present their case to the Water Board and secure a contract that way.

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