Water Watch NYC

Everything you need to know about water in NYC.


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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.

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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


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Repairing the Delaware Aqueduct: When Will New York City be Ready?

The Delaware Aqueduct, completed in 1944, is the longest tunnel in the world.  This 85 mile stretch of steel and concrete transports 50% of New York City’s water supply downstate from several reservoirs in the Delaware Watershed.  In 1991, a major leak was discovered near Newburgh, but the Department of Environmental Protection did not release a remediation plan until 2010.  In the interim, the DEP tested and surveyed the aqueduct, determining that between 15 million and 35 million gallons of water were being lost each day.  The leak was caused by the unstable geologic features through which this segment of the tunnel passed under the Hudson River.  The tunnels were bored through faulted limestone, which did not provide enough support.  Thus, cracks developed and leaks sprung.

bypasstunnel

Source:  Upstater Magazine

The DEP’s 2010 repair plan was to construct a bypass tunnel.  Since it still must travel under the Hudson River through unstable limestone, the 2.5 mile bypass is to be lined with 9,200 linear feet of steel, while the original tunnel was only lined with 1,900.  Between 2013 and 2016, the shafts on each side of the tunnel were completed, and a high-tech boring machine was constructed.  Just this year, the boring machine (named after Nora Stanton Blatch Deforest Barney, the first woman in the U.S. to earn an engineering degree) and 40-foot sections of steel liner were delivered to the site where the project will begin in Newburgh.  Boring the hole for the bypass tunnel is projected to take two years, during which the leaking segment of the aqueduct will remain in use.  After completion, it will take 6 to 8 months to shut down the current aqueduct, drain it, connect the bypass, and get everything back up and running.  The entire project was originally scheduled for completion in 2019, but according to the DEP, the tunnel alone will not be finished until 2022.  If all goes as currently scheduled, the earliest the water will flow through the bypass tunnel and into the city is 2023.

Because the Delaware Aqueduct delivers half of New York City’s water supply, a complete shutdown for several months poses issues.  To ensure that the city has access to sufficient, reliable water during the shutdown, the Water for the Future program was developed.  Under this initiative, the Catskill Aqueduct was to be repaired starting in 2016 to increase capacity by 30 to 40 million gallons per day.  The project, now scheduled to begin in 2018, requires three separate 10-week shutdowns, and is projected to be completed by 2020.  Rehabilitating the Queens Groundwater System is also on Water for the Future’s agenda.  This water source is expected to provide over 30mgd, but as of June 2017, the only progress the DEP has made was holding public meetings regarding the intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement.  The proposal was not well received by Long Island officials, who are concerned that re-opening these wells may damage aquifers that provide water to Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The Water for the Future program includes plans for a filtration plant, making water from the Croton Watershed available in New York City.  Construction of the Croton Water Filtration Plant was completed in 2015, and it has supplied water to parts of Manhattan and the Bronx ever since.  This extra water will be crucial during the period when the Delaware Aqueduct water supply is cut off.  Normally, the Croton Watershed provides about 10% of the city’s water daily.  The Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that in times of drought or emergency, in this case the Delaware Aqueduct shutdown, it is capable of providing 30% of the city’s water.  Lastly, the DEP has been implementing conservation initiatives in the city, so New Yorkers become dependent on less water.  The 2013 Water Demand Management Plan, created in light of the Water for the Future program, details the implementation of water management projects throughout New York City.  These 21 initiatives include municipal, residential, and non-residential water efficiency; water distribution optimization, water supply shortage management, and upstate water conservation.  Completion is aimed for 2021.

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Data Source:  NYC Open Data

Despite these efforts to prepare for the shutdown, it is questionable whether New York City is ready for this project.  Although water consumption per capita in New York City has dropped over the years (30% since the 1980s), the population has increased.  Since the Water Demand Management Plan was implemented in 2013, the city has seen slight fluctuations in daily consumption, and no substantial reduction, as shown in the accompanying graph. Mayor de Blasio has a track record of postponing work on water-related projects, such that budgets can be realigned to keep water rates down.  However, without improved water infrastructure New York City will be very ill-equipped in the event of a drought or natural disaster.  It is crucial that projects and conservation initiatives are brought to fruition, because at its current rate of consumption, New York City is not prepared for the Delaware Aqueduct shutdown.  Ideally, water consumption must be cut by 40% before the shutdown occurs.  We are in a precarious position, in which we can afford neither to push the completion date of the repairs farther out, nor to begin the project without proper conservation methods and supplementary water sources secured.  It is imperative that action is taken soon to ensure New Yorkers have a reliable water source for years to come.

Allegra Miccio