Water Watch NYC

Everything you need to know about water in NYC.


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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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The Water Board’s Political Gamble

While the Water Board usually only meets five times a year, there is a second meeting scheduled for November 21, 2007, making it two meetings this month alone. In addition to the one upcoming meeting they also have five meetings tentatively scheduled for the second or third week in December and one meeting tentatively scheduled for early January. Why the sudden flurry of activity?

In order to raise water rates, the Water Board must meet once to determine the magnitude of the rate hike (which is what the November 21 meeting is for), then wait three weeks while word is spread regarding the rate hike, then have a public meeting in each of the five boroughs and finally meet once more to make the final decision to approve the rate hike or not.

The DEP wants City Council to approve water lien sales privileges, but the Council is reluctant to allow the DEP to sell a person’s home out from under them until the DEP enacts a third party review process. The DEP contends that a third party review process exists in the form of the Water Board. The problem is that the Water Board has never actually reviewed a water bill. After the DEP’s Deputy Commissioner Steve Lawitts reviews a bill, if it’s still in contention he sends it to the water board at which point it goes to their Executive Director for review. The problem is that their Executive Director is the same Steve Lawitts. In short there is no third party oversight and therefore the DEP and the Water Board just continue to raise rates until the City Council has no choice but to grant them what they want, namely, water lien sales privileges.


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Rate Hike AND Service Termination

The NYC Water Board met this morning to approve the midyear rate hike OR service termination. In the end they chose to do both.

Here are some of the new measures the DEP now has regarding service termination:

  • The DEP is now only required to issue a notice of termination 15 days in advance.
  • The DEP is now allowed to terminate service for smaller amounts owed for shorter periods of time.
  • The Water Board reduced the amount of time that the DEP is prohibited from shutting off water due to the cold weather.
  • The time frame to issue complaints has been reduced.

Water Watch NYC’s opinion on this matter is that the Water Board is putting itself in a very precarious situation. With these new rules, it becomes too easy for an overzealous clerk to mistakenly order service termination on a squeaky clean account. What happens if a homeowner who always paid his $500-$600 dollar bills on time, all of a sudden gets a bill for $5,000-$6,000? He refuses to pay it because it’s obviously a mistake and three months later the DEP terminates his water service.


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New Stormwater Control Techniques Planned

James GennaroOn November 8, City Council Member James Gennaro will be joined by representatives of the Storm Waters Infrastructure Matters (SWIM) environmental coalition to announce the introduction of three stormwater management bills aimed at reducing the amount of raw sewage that flows into New York Harbor.

“The development and implementation of a Sustainable Stormwater Management Plan is essential to reducing stormwater runoff into the City’s sewers, which directly results in massive amounts of pollutants and pathogens being dumped into our waterways due to combined sewer overflows,” Councilman Gennaro said. “Introducing ‘green’ stormwater control techniques, such as maximizing the use of parks and other green spaces to capture and store water, building green roofs, and protecting wetlands, will not only take the strain off our over-taxed sewer system, it can also reduce flooding, which is a big deal in Queens, where flooding has repeatedly destroyed people’s homes and businesses. This progressive legislation will improve the City’s water quality, allowing for expanded recreational uses of our water; add new green spaces; mitigate flooding; and add capacity to a sewer system that, frankly, is in dire need of help.”

Water Watch NYC thanks SWIM for their press release about the press conference and hearing. More info can be found at the SWIM website here.

Water Watch NYC also wishes to commend Council Member Gennaro for his efforts to build a better economic and environmental stormwater management system for NYC’s home and business owners.

All are encouraged to attend tomorrow’s hearing, which begins at 1:00 pm, and to the press conference on the steps of City Hall which will take place prior to the meeting.