Water Watch NYC

Everything you need to know about water in NYC.

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Why the City Loves Frontage

Frontage billing is the enemy of anyone who cares about conservation or the environment. Charging people a fixed amount for water, regardless of how much of it they use, encourages waste and an indifference to the need to conserve. With this in mind, why is the city reinstating frontage billing?

There are two basic reasons why the city prefers frontage billing:

  1. Frontage bills are easier to collect – For buildings with a mortgage, the bank usually pays frontage bills. They know how much to pay, they know when to pay and they don’t want to be caught in a situation where a building owner that they loaned money to has a loan sold for overdue water charges. With metered billing, the amount varies from bill to bill and the city has to chase after property owners in order to ensure payment.
  2. Frontage bills go out once a year – The city sends frontage bills annually, as opposed to metered bills which go out quarterly. This means that the more buildings there are on frontage, the more money the city has to work with at the start of every fiscal year and the less money they have to wait for down the road.

This reliance on frontage billing despite its incongruence with the city’s necessary conservation goals is a perfect example of the current administration’s love of short-sighted financial quick fixes instead of long term financial goals that will, in the long-run, reduce the operating cost of the DEP.

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A Closer Look at the Resignation of Jim Tripp

Any New Yorker who has ever gotten a traffic ticket while Mike Bloomberg has been in office likely knows about Bloomberg’s brilliant ideas to increase the city’s income without raising taxes.

For many years, one of the city’s greatest sources of income has been their lease agreement with the Water Board. The Water Board pays the city exorbitant amounts for their use of the reservoirs and tunnels. The amount paid depends not on the value of these systems but is a percentage of the DEP’s spending. The more the DEP spends on things like upkeep and expansion, the more revenue the city gets. The worst part is that the city doesn’t even have to use this money for water related issues. They can use it for anything from education to street paving.

The city has a similarly absurd agreement with the DEP regarding sanitation. Since dirty streets contaminate clean water when it rains, the city charges the DEP for street cleaning.

These are two of the biggest issues currently facing the DEP and the Water Board. Former Water Board Chair Jim Tripp fought hard against this type of backdoor financing and in July, 2008 considered resigning over the lease agreement. Was the city’s intransigence on this issue the straw that broke the camel’s back?

New York City will miss Jim Tripp’s perseverance.  Will the new Water Board Chair, Alan Moss, fight for what’s best for the residents of New York, or is he in the pocket of the city officials that got him appointed to the Water Board in the first place?

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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.