Water Watch NYC

Everything you need to know about water in NYC.


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Climate means more than temperature: the implications of climate change on NYC’s water supply

People often use the terms “climate change” and “global warming” interchangeably, but it is important to note that climate encompasses more than just temperature.  A climate refers to the weather conditions in a specific geographic region, which of course includes temperature, but also has a great deal to do with precipitation.

When we think about our water supply, precipitation is key.  In the case of New York City, the amount of precipitation we get locally does not actually matter too much.  All of our water comes from the Catskill/ Delaware Watersheds in upstate New York.  So, the precipitation we are concerned with is in a region designated by NOAA as Climate Division 2 of New York.

As seen in the accompanying graph, the region in which the watersheds are contained gets a lot of water.  The reservoirs are full, and there is no imminent threat of that changing.  However, we must keep in mind that year-to-year accumulation is variable, and precipitation events are erratic.  For example, in 2011 there was a huge spike in precipitation from Hurricane Irene.

NOAA Eastern Plateau Annual Precipitaton 1980-2018

Although New York City’s water supply is in good shape for the foreseeable future, the looming Delaware Aqueduct shutdowns can cause delivery issues.


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When it comes to protecting the Gowanus, every drop saved helps

Having grown up in Brooklyn, I always knew the Gowanus Canal to be a polluted waterway that was near the big-box hardware stores under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.  It was flanked by “cool neighborhoods” on either side- namely, Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, and Boerum Hill.  These are the places my parents liked to go out to dinner, do boutique shopping, and catch a movie.  To me there was this grey area between Fifth Avenue and Smith Street, of which I knew nothing about for most of my childhood.  It was Gowanus.

Fast forward to my college years.  I’m in an introduction to Urban Planning course, learning about Superfund sites.  It turns out that the dirty little waterway is one of the country’s most polluted.  Fast forward to present day.  I’m back in Brooklyn, getting my Master’s in City and Regional Planning, and working in water management.  My office is in- you guessed it- Gowanus.

With water, it’s important to consider that every part of the cycle is interconnected.  One could argue that what we do at Ashokan Water Services (reading meters, monitoring consumption, and finding ways to help people save on bills, to name a few of our so-called water services) has little effect on bigger, hot-topic water issues that environmentalists are into.  I, however, beg to differ.

The less water we use, the less water we discharge to the sewer systems (and the less money we spend, but I’ll leave that pitch to our sales team!)  Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) occur when the volume of waste in the sewer system exceeds capacity.  When the sewers overflow, waste is released from CSO outfalls into bodies of water, like the Gowanus Canal.  This is common during precipitation events, and the discharge can contain anything from stormwater runoff to toxic waste.

So, saving water seems great.  It will save bill-payers money, and help ameliorate issues like CSOs.  This is where the Gowanus Canal comes in.  Last summer had the pleasure of chatting with folks from the Gowanus Canal Conservancy about the Gowanus sewershed and implications of impending rezoning in the neighborhood.  The inevitable future of high-rise residential buildings in the area will lead to increased volume of water in the sewershed.  The Conservancy’s goal is to implement extensive stormwater retention systems, such as bioswales and storage tanks in buildings, to eventually reach zero CSO.  Requirements to implement sewage overflow prevention measures in new developments are included in the rezoning outline.

Mitigating waste dumped into the Gowanus Canal will allow the waterway to more easily transition to a natural state.  The reintroduction of mussels and oysters into the ecosystem helps to filter water, and creating natural banks rather than built up bulkheads can help improve storm resiliency.  While some groups advocate for development catered towards human recreation (such as boat slips, access points, and promenades), I think it is wiser to focus on returning the canal to a more natural state.

As someone who spends every day in relatively close proximity to the canal, I am concerned about the seriousness of health issues.  There are reportedly higher than average cancer rates in the area, and anyone who comes in direct contact with the water is at even higher risk.  I also had the opportunity to canoe with the Gowanus Dregdegrs Canoe Club last summer, and I’m going to be honest, I was very paranoid about touching the water. It was nasty.  While I support their initiatives as stewards and educators, and hope that the Gowanus can ultimately be reclaimed for human enjoyment, remediation needs to come first.

Ultimately, the introduction of residential buildings surrounding the canal will lead to increased demand for public space.  It is likely that this demand will come before the canal ceases being a cocktail of toilet water and chemicals, because of the impending rezoning in the area.  The Department of City Planning’s rezoning framework for Gowanus is focused on resilient infrastructure, open space, job growth, and residential development.  As can be seen with the first residential development to go up bordering the canal (365 Bond), some public space that has already been created.

Despite the filthiness of the Gowanus Canal, it really can be quite beautiful.  It is as much an asset as it is an issue, and with the hard work of advocacy groups and conservationists in the neighborhood, the aforementioned Conservancy and Dredgers to name a few, change can be made.  It is my dream for an organization like Ashokan to help spread the water conservation good news.  Every effort helps, and every drop of water saved makes a difference.

It is important to keep in mind that water issues such as these are not limited to the Gowanus neighborhood.  It is important to conserve water anywhere and everywhere! For more information on how we can help you save water, check out our website.

Allegra Miccio


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DEP Proposes 2.31% Water Rate Increase for FY20

On May 1st, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection proposed a 2.31% increase to the water rate for Fiscal Year 2020.  The increase is subject to approval by the New York City Water Board, which will hold a series of public hearing.  If approved, the rate increase will go into effect on July 1, 2019.

Despite the proposed rate increase, water still costs less in New York City than in most of the country.  Single family homeowners can expect to see an average increase of $1.82 on their monthly bills, and multi-family units will see an increase of around $1.35 per month. Additionally, the minimum charge of using less than 92 gallons of water per day will not increase.  For the past six years, this rate has remained constant at $1.27 per day.

According to the DEP, the increased revenue will be used to fund critical drinking water and wastewater projects, as well as maintain existing affordability programs for low-income and multi-family properties.

If you have any thoughts or concerns, please participate in one of the following public hearings.  This information is from and available on DEP’s website.

Bronx
Thursday, May 30 at 7pm
Hostos Community College, Savoy Building, 2nd Floor
120 East 149th Street

Manhattan
Tuesday, June 4 at 2pm
255 Greenwich Street, 8th Floor

Queens
Wednesday, June 5 and 7pm
John F. Kennedy, Jr. School (P721Q)
57-12 94th Street

Brooklyn
Monday, June 10 at 7pm
St. Francis College, Founders Hall
180 Remsen Street

Staten Island
Tuesday, June 11 at 7pm
Joan & Alan Berniknow Jewish Community Center
1466 Manor Road


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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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Mayor’s water bill subsidy rewards the rich, failing to create equity

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Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Upper East Side Townhouse, eligible for $183 bill credit

 

In December of 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “This New Year we can celebrate another critical step towards building a more fair and equitable city.”  He is referencing the NY Court of Appeals decision allowing 664,000 homeowners throughout the five boroughs to receive a $183 credit towards their water bills.  The problem?  The only eligible bill payers are owners of one to three family homes, many of whom are wealthy.  They are being unnecessarily rewarded, while low income co-op and condo owners reap absolutely no benefits.  Our supposedly liberal mayor is effectively having low income residents subsidize the luxurious private homes of the wealthy.  If this water bill credit was truly meant to build a more fair and equitable city, all NYC residents, specifically those in need financially, would receive water bill credits.


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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