The Water Board is one of three governmental bodies responsible for water and sewer in NYC. (The other two are the DEP, which is in charge of system operation and maintenance, and the Municipal Water Finance Authority, which is responsible for debt service.)
The Water Board has three primary oversight functions, all relating to the DEP. These three functions are:
- To review and regulate the DEP’s operations and costs.
- To set the rates for water and sewer service in New York.
- To arbitrate and respond to customer complaints about the DEP.
Now let’s briefly discuss what the Water Board actually does as it relates to these three functions.
- The Water Board rarely gives any notice to the DEP’s budget or operations. Recently, they’ve been more concerned with their own budget, which, by the way, is less than 0.001% of the DEP’s budget. The only time they discuss the DEP’s budget and operations is when the DEP asks them for money to fund a project that they don’t want to send out for bidding. Their answer whenever the DEP asks them for money is either to immediately and without deliberation say yes or to put it off until the next meeting, at which time they immediately and without deliberation say yes.
- Every year the DEP must determine how much money it needs to operate and how much it needs to charge for water in order to raise that amount of money. They then ask the Water Board to set the water/sewer rate at some number that will help them achieve their goals. The Water Board is meant to examine the DEP’s current and projected expenditures to determine whether or not the rate that the DEP asks for is appropriate. The Water Board never examines; they simply approve, no questions asked. In the rare case that the Water Board does start doing its job, like when members Jim Tripp and Marilyn Gelber started asking tough questions last year, those members find themselves off the Board.
- There is an appeals process when one has a DEP billing complaint. Part of that process is to appeal to the DEP Commissioner, Steve Lawitts. If denied, you must later turn to the Water Board, where your complaint is reviewed by the Water Board’s Executive Director, the same Steve Lawitts (Lawitts is also on the Municipal Water Finance Authority) or his Treasurer, William Kusterbeck. To my knowledge, no complaint has ever reached the desk of any Water Board member. How many governmental agencies do you know of that have no third party oversight committees and are instead overseen by the same people making the mistakes in the first place?