Water Watch NYC

Everything you need to know about water in NYC.


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NYC Water Board Approves 2.36% Rate Increase

This morning the New York City Water Board held a meeting to approve the 2.36% water rate increase, effective on July 1, 2018.  This is the first rate increase in three years, but also the lowest proposed increase in 15 years.

In the preceding weeks, public hearings have been held in each borough for citizens to raise comments and concern.  Alfonso L. Carney Jr., chair of the board, noted that public attendance at these hearings was light and attributed this to the assumption that the proposed rate increase must not be troubling.  He acknowledged the points brought up by the few who did participate in the hearing process, and encouraged more concerned citizens to do so in the future.  Some substantive points made at these hearings were:

  • The DEP should establish a system to bill separately for water and stormwater, such that costs are split equitably among rate payers.  Board member Adam Freed spoke up in favor of this suggestion, noting that this will be more feasible when the update underway to the DEP billing system is complete.  He commended groups like the SWIM Coalition for their advocacy in this area, and is personally pushing for stormwater charges that incentivize green infrastructure installation (hopefully, more successfully then the Parking Lot Stormwater Pilot Program!)
  • There is widespread support of the Multifamily Assistance Program, which has a cap at $10 million.  It was suggested that the cap be doubled to $20 million by an unnamed opponent of the rate increase.  While the board acknowledged this opinion, all they can do is keep this in mind for next year.  Meanwhile, the new rate schedule altered the way this cap is administered.  While the program once operated on a first-come first-serve basis, going forward assistance will be granted based on need.  Need is assessed by NYC HPD from a metric based on median income and rent.
  • Dov Vinar of Ashokan Water Services (that’s us!) raised concern about amendments to the Innocent Purchaser clause which implements a firm 30-day limit on the process.  His concern is that the shortened time frame will potentially leave people exposed to ending up with bills from the previous owner.  The water board will not address this issue.
  • Dov also argued that a two-year expiration on Letters of Authorization is too short because appeals are often lengthy.  Here, we saw the sole immediate success of the public hearing process!  An amendment has been made such that LOAs are good for three years, or a time period at the discretion of the contracted party and the rate payer.

The amended resolution was approved and passed unanimously.

Allegra Miccio


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Amendment to NYC Benchmarking Law is Anti-Water Conservation

The New York City Council amended Article 309 of Local Law 33, mandating that buildings obtain and disclose energy efficiency scores and grades starting in 2020.  Buildings will receive energy efficiency grades of “A” through “F” assigned through a benchmarking tool.  Similar to restaurant grades, buildings will be required to display energy scores in a prominent location near their entrance, in hopes that many will optimize energy efficiency in striving for an “A.”

Article 309 is titled “Benchmarking Energy and Water Use,” yet every efficiency clause deals only with energy.  Why should buildings be graded on their gas and electric efficiency, but not water?  It has been evident time and time again that the city does not care about water conservation.  It is imperative that this issue is at the forefront of the city’s conservation agenda, especially with the looming Delaware Aqueduct shutdowns.  The DEP only cares about generating revenue.

At Ashokan Water Services, conservation is our mission.  We specialize in promoting effective water management in the very types of buildings which will be affected by the energy efficiency amendment, and implore the New York City Council to make the same grading requirements for water efficiency as they have for energy efficiency.

Allegra Miccio


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We went to the January 2018 NYC Water Board Meeting so you didn’t have to

Public hearings can be long and tedious.  The process is boring, and attendance tends to be low.  Such is the case with the New York City Water Board’s public hearing.  However, these meetings have huge implications for water costs in New York City, so representatives from Ashokan Water Services (that’s us!) went to represent the interests of New York City water consumers and bill payers.  On Friday, January 26, 2018 the New York City Water Board held a public hearing at 8:30am followed by a meeting at 9:30am.  The issues on the table were whether to repeal the 2.1% increase to water and sewer rates allowed under the December 19, 2017 decision of Prometheus Realty Corp vs. New York City Water Board, and whether to extend the deadline to comply with the terms of the Multifamily Conservation Program to December 31, 2018.

In the Prometheus case, the Water Board was accused of unfairly implementing the 2.1% rate increase and issuing a $183 tax credit to only a certain tax class.  To address the rate increase issue of the Prometheus decision, the Water Board hired Amawalk Consulting Group to assess their revenues and financial standing.  Their findings showed that the Water Board is in good financial standing. This means that the 2.1% water rate increase is not necessary to fund the FY2018 budget, and that water and wastewater fees are reasonable as they currently stand.  Although no rate increases are being adopted at the moment, the board will meet again in April with a rate proposal for FY2019.

A representative spoke on behalf of the Rent Stabilization Association, commending the decision to repeal the rate increase.  He also suggested that all tax-classes should be considered to receive credit, for there was no basis upon which one tax class should be singled out.  He advocated for a full elimination of the $183 rebate, and in favor of continued rate freezes.  He expressed belief that the Multifamily Conservation Program (MCP) should be expanded to include additional buildings willing to meet the qualifications.  The current eligibility base is too small for substantial water conservation in the city to be realized- a belief that we share here at Ashokan Water Services. (Check out more of our opinions on the matter here!)

The 2017 Water Rate Schedule stated that properties that did not provide evidence of MCP compliance would receive a penalty charge of 10% of their bill.  Compliance includes the property having four or more units, wireless meter reading devices, and proof that conservation efforts are being made such that water consumption decreases.  However, the penalty was never assessed since its proposal a year ago, even though approximately 10,000 properties have not provided evidence of compliance dating back to 2012.  At this meeting, the board proposed to extend the compliance deadline to December of 2018.  To implement this, the Department of Environmental Protection claims that they will “immediately begin enhanced outreach and engagement with the affected properties.”

However, no insight was provided as to how the DEP will do this.  Representing Ashokan Water Services, Hershel Weiss voiced his concerns at the public hearing.  Our main qualm is that MCP regulations have not been enforced in the past, so no one complied with the guidelines.  Albeit, these process guidelines are still unclear, and no one understands who has to submit applications.  Our request (which Hershel has voiced at approximately 14 different Water Board public hearings over the years) is simple- the Water Board must write a clear directive stating specific guidelines, a checklist for compliance, and who needs to submit applications.

The Water Board assured everyone at the hearing that they would take all comments and concerns into consideration.  “We don’t come predisposed,” said Alfonso Carney, the chair of the Water Board, “we will use what the members of the public say.”  This sentiment is expressed at every meeting, and nothing substantial comes of it.  We did not expect this meeting to yield different results, but our fingers are crossed nonetheless.

The Water Board with reconvene in a few months.  Updates regarding their public hearings and meetings can be found here.

Allegra Miccio


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The Parking Lot Stormwater Not-So-Pilot Program

A pilot program, by definition, is to be short-term, small-scale, and experimental.  They are feasibility studies, done to help determine whether or not the proposed project will work if implemented on a large scale.  Since these programs are experimental, it is expected that the hypotheses are tested and comprehensive reports are published detailing successes and failures.  It can be argued that programs such as the Parking Lot Stormwater Pilot Program have been deliberately ignored, and perhaps never intended to be experimental after all.

Because the Parking Lot Stormwater Pilot Program was implemented under the umbrella of New York’s Green Infrastructure Plan, one would expect that data collected regarding feasibility would be included in the Green Infrastructure Annual Reports.  In 2012, the first year after the pilot program was introduced, the GI report noted that the DEP was still identifying stand-alone parking lots which were to be charged for runoff starting in 2013.  In 2013, a rate increase from $0.05 to $0.06 per square foot was reported, as well as an increase in the number of lots being charged, and the total revenue generated from the program.  The 2014 GI report noted another rate increase ($0.06 to $0.063 per square foot) and the usual statistics on revenue.

Notably, the 2014 report provided the first piece of useful information about the Parking Lot Stormwater Pilot Program- that it wasn’t working.  Of course, the DEP did not outright state that the program was a failure.  Instead, the report reads, “no green infrastructure exemptions have been given to date.”  This means that parking lot owners would rather pay the stormwater fee than install green infrastructure on their properties.  However, the purpose of the Green Infrastructure Program as a whole was to promote the development of GI throughout the city, not to devise revenue-generating tactics.  In order for this program to be successful, the prospect of being exempt from the charge needs to actually entice people to install GI.

After the 2014 report, the pilot program should have ended or been modified to spark the desired change.  The hypothesis was tested, and it failed.  Perhaps the fee was not high enough for anyone to feel burdened by it, or retrofitting parking lots was more expensive than the fee itself.  Nonetheless, the pilot program continued.  The 2015 GI Annual Report states that, “previous annual reports describe the Parking Lot Stormwater Charge Pilot Program and can be found on DEP’s website.”  What this reads is that the DEP gave up.  They had seen no results from the pilot program, but were unwilling to cease collecting the revenue it generated.  In 2016, the annual report again failed to include any relevant study, and it is safe to expect the 2017 report won’t either.

As of now, the Parking Lot Stormwater Pilot Program isn’t much of a pilot program.  It has been in place for seven years, and its short-term feasibility was disproved back in 2014.  The program continues, unfairly charging people while no research is being done and no dedicated reports are being put together.  Instead, each year a short sentence is dedicated to the program in GI reports, which somehow passes as enough of a report to keep the program running under the guise of being a pilot.

Allegra Miccio


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Office Space as Green Space

indoorgardenIndoor landscaping is an excellent way to promote human and environmental health.  Everyone knows that plants absorb carbon dioxide (a climate-altering greenhouse gas) and release oxygen (what we breathe!), so it makes lots of sense to have plants around a home or office.  However, having indoor plants provides many more benefits.  That’s why here at Ashokan, we take pride in our office’s indoor garden.

Our office building was designed specifically to accommodate an indoor garden.  During construction, a hole was left such that the soil extends all the way down to the soil beneath the foundation.  This allows water from our garden to drain naturally.  However, you don’t need to design a whole building specifically to accommodate a garden in order to reap the benefits of indoor landscaping!

Plants help regulate air temperature.  Through the process of transpiration, plants release moisture into the air.  The moisture evaporates from the plants’ leaves, which increases humidity within a building.  When it is warm out, this added moisture cools down the air.  Believe it or not, when it is cold out, the added moisture warms the air, as moist air retains heat better than dry air does.  Indoor landscaping is a great way to cut energy consumption and costs, which was one of the motives for incorporating a garden into Ashokan’s office space.

Having plants around also reduces dust and other airborne pollutants, such as mold and bacteria.  Studies show that people who work and live in indoor spaces with plants are much less likely to become ill.  It comes as no surprise that healthy people are more productive than sick ones.  To further facilitate productivity, plants help with sound absorption.  When background noise is minimized, distractions are minimized!

In general, the presence of plants makes people happy.  They provide numerous health benefits, environmental benefits, and are aesthetically pleasing.  Studies show that plants help decrease stress, boost creativity, and sharpen focus.  Who wouldn’t want to work in such a great environment?


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Wastewater Fees Encourage Green Infrastructure Initiatives in NYC

Cities are full of impervious surfaces including streets, roofs, and parking lots.  These surfaces do not absorb water; therefore, they produce a great deal of stormwater runoff.  Stormwater, a type of wastewater that comes from rain and melting snow, is a leading cause of water pollution.  The water that runs off of impervious surfaces carries pollutants with it into sewers, sometimes causing sewer overflows and flooding.  These events can lead to stormwater and wastewater spilling into our natural waterways, which impacts water quality and recreation.

StormwaterRunoffImpervious surfaces cover approximately 72% of New York City’s land area, of which 8% are parking lots.  In 2008, zoning rules for parking lots were updated to require all commercial and community facility parking lots to have periphery landscaping to absorb and retain storm water.  In 2011, the Department of Environmental Protection launched the Parking Lot Stormwater Pilot Program, taking storm water management for parking lots a step farther than the 2008 zoning change.

This initiative requires owners of parking lots that are unaffiliated with buildings to pay annual fees for stormwater runoff.  Normally, wastewater sewer charges are included in water bills, which these stand-alone parking lots previously did not receive.  Each day, 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater flow through New York City’s 14 wastewater treatment plants.  The money generated from these bills now goes towards the cost of transporting and treating wastewater and runoff in the city.

To encourage the development of green infrastructure throughout New York City, it is possible to be exempt from these annual charges.  Parking lots that demonstrate on-site green management of stormwater (such as permeable pavement and subsurface water detention systems) can apply for an exemption with the DEP.  Parking lot owners who fail to implement stormwater-capturing infrastructure are charged $0.05 per square foot annually.  The average annual bill for New York City parking lots is just under $700.

The Parking Lot Stormwater Pilot Program is just one part of a larger initiative called the Green Infrastructure Plan.  The plan, which was introduced under Mayor Bloomberg’s administration, is “a sustainable strategy for clean waterways.”  Since the plan’s official implementation in 2011, the DEP has installed rain gardens, retrofitted public property, conducted sewer flow monitoring, completed grant projects, and more.

Allegra Miccio


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NYC Faces Potential Water Crisis in Wake of Failed Conservation Efforts

In preparation for the Delaware Aqueduct shutdown, several initiatives to reduce water consumption have been proposed for New York City.  Cutting off 50% of the water supply will be a major crisis, with catastrophe looming if a drought should coincide with the shutdown.  The Water Board states that they are confident that the Delaware Aqueduct shutdown will not result in a NYC drought, but nevertheless recently redefined drought to mean  insufficient water reaching the city, opposed to the old definition meaning insufficient water in the reservoirs.

The DEP was counting on conservation as the cheapest and most viable solution to cope with a severely diminished water supply, but it’s not working.  Efforts are not being taken seriously, and Department of Environmental Protection is worried that reducing consumption will reduce revenue.  As shown in the accompanying graphs, revenue in recent years has increased while consumption has remained stagnant.

failedconservationgraphs-e1508864171748.jpg

The Toilet Replacement Program, introduced in 2014 as part of the Multifamily Conservation Program, offered  vouchers to purchase high efficiency toilets.  However, the program fell short of  achieving substantial conservation as the group of eligible recipients is far too small.  In order to qualify, customers must be on a flat-rate billing.  However, most New Yorkers use a metered billing system, paying per usage.  This is no coincidence.  The DEP strategically designed a program in which they appear to be promoting conservation, while  insuring revenue increases.

The DEP boasts how water consumption has dropped for municipal properties such as public schools and government buildings.  The only reason consumption dropped is because these buildings pay a flat-rate and were eligible for toilet replacement.  Although consumption has dropped in these buildings due to toilet replacement, leaks and running faucets are likely to go unnoticed, as they make no impact on their  water bill.  Government-owned property should be held accountable for water usage and billed based upon consumption.  Moreover, to successfully conserve water, non-flat rate payers should be able to participate in conservation  programs.

It is evident that the DEP does not want people to save money by saving water.  It’s about time Mayor de Blasio and the DEP recognize that in the long run, water security for New York City is more important than revenue.  Without proper conservation methods in place and major modifications made to plumbing in all buildings, New York City will not be prepared for the staged drought at the time of the Delaware Aqueduct shutdown.  If conservation is taken seriously, the shutdown will only pose minor inconvenience.  If it is not, the drought will be catastrophic.

Allegra Miccio