Water Watch NYC

Everything you need to know about water in NYC.


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drought20161104bigThe entire New York State is now on “Drought Watch”. The category is merely  advisory, and does not mandate conservation. I hope the residents of NYC appreciate how the DEP’s large water reserves insulating them from what could be a major inconvenience. Enjoy the sunny days, but pray for rain in the Watershed.


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NYC Reservoir Level

Last weeks rain barely hit the Catskills. The small amount of moisture fell on dry soil, and was quickly absorbed. New York’s reservoir level keeps dropping. It now stands at 56.8%. How low can the reservoirs go before the city becomes concerned and declares a drought?


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NYC Drought

New York’s reservoir level has dropped to 57.9% of capacity. Back in the eighties the Water Board issued droughts warnings when the reservoir level fell below 60%. Due to years of water conservation, NYC is sitting pretty, while the rest of the North-East is experiencing a major drought. How low can it go before the

To be honest the city is reluctant to declare a drought in the autumn, when there is a good chance that the winter precipitation will refill the reservoirs.

The questions is “How low can it go before a drought is declared”.


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Is Frontage Dead?

One year ago, I lamented the fact that the Water Board  had not kept its  20 year old promise to  eliminate frontage.  It  just changed the program name from Frontage to Multifamily Conservation Program (MCP) .  MCP is a “Green” name.  It even has the word Conservation in it.  At that time I acknowledged that the MCP had one advantage over frontage and that was the DEP requirement that owners repair all  leaks and   install low flow water fixtures in 2015.

Well, the Water Board’s  new rate schedule will roll back the compliance date to 2016.  Property owners can safely  stay on the MCP program without taking any conservation measures for three more years.  If past performance is any indication of things to come, the City will most likely extend the deadline for compliance each time it approaches.  Unfortunately, nothing will change until NYC is faced with a drought and then it will be too late to accomplish anything.

Long Live Frontage a.k.A. MCP.


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Frontage is Dead — Long Live the MCP Program

Water Conservation – The big loser in the 2012 Water & Sewer Rates Proposal.

There are two primary methods to bill for water and sewer in NYC. The first method is “Metered Billing” under which the size of one’s bill is solely based upon consumption. The more water consumed the more you pay. If you conserve water you realize an immediate saving.  The second method is Flat Rate billing in which you pay a fixed fee based upon certain characteristics of your building. Once you fee is fixed you can use as much water as you wish without incurring any additional cost. The two most prevalent Flat Rate billing methods in NYC are Frontage and the Multifamily Conservation Program (MCP). Under frontage you pay for the width of the front of your property (hence the name Frontage), height of the building, number of apartments, number of plumbing fixtures and other physical attributes, and under the MCP program you pay per apartment.

For as long as I can remember conservationist have been urging the NYC Water Board to eliminate frontage billing. Experience has shown that homeowners  will reduce their consumption if they  are forced to pay for what they use. The Water Board agreed with this in principle, and  back in the 1990s they mailed out letters to all customers stating that frontage would end in two years. Customers were urged to install meters and repair their leaks or face large bills. At the last moment the Water Board had cold feet and pushed off the deadline for another two years. The pattern kept repeating itself for over a decade. Finally in 2010 the Water Board said they were serious and Frontage would end in 2012. When members of the Water Board were asked why anyone should believe that 2012 would be different, they pointed out that Mayor Bloomberg was a lame duck and serious about conservation.

Well they are finally doing it. On March 30 the Water Board announced the end of frontage.  Bloomberg is good as his word. There is, however, one caveat: Everyone on frontage will be moved to the Multifamily Conservation Program. The rate for the MCP program will be the average of all frontage rates. In short all that has been accomplished with fourteen years of conservation lobbying is a change in the name of the flat rate billing program!

To be honest the program will require all building on the MCP program to install Water Sense Plumbing Fixtures and repair any leaks. This should result in some savings. The problem is that there is no motivation for anyone to continue repairing their leaks unless you believe the DEP when they say that they will be monitoring your consumption and throw you off the program if they detect leaks.

I never believed that the DEP would eliminate frontage. There are just too many reasons to keep billing on fixed rates. Fixed rate bills are generally paid on time by the mortgagee while metered bills are paid by the homeowners and chronically late. Furthermore: fixed rate bills are paid a year in advance. But most important is it really fair to ask property owners to pay fluctuating bills caused by their tenant’s consumption while maintaining fixed rate Rent Stabilization?


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Winners & Losers – Proposed NYC 2012 Water Rate Schedule

The proposed 2012 rate schedule will eliminate Frontage, modify the Multifamily Conservation Program (MCP), cap the rental agreement, and bar some properties from flat rate billing. As with any major change in billing rates there will be winners and losers.

The Winners are:

Properties currently on the MCP program were expecting their current rate to rise to 7% to $1,092. Instead they will see their cost per apartment drop by $197 per apartment per year to $894.

Large apartments with multiple bathrooms that have high consumption toilets would have see frontage rates rise 7% to near $1,000 per unit. Instead the per unit costs will drop to $894 per apartment. The only downside for these apartments is that they will have to replace their high consumption plumbing fixtures by 2015. It pays to live large.

The Losers are

Properties with one bathroom per apartment and low consumption toilets (senior housing) will see their rates increase by up to $150 per unit. –Serves them right for leading a frugal existence.

Properties without any regulation will no longer be eligible for the MCP program. – Serves them right for trying to be independent.


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Proposed 2012 Water And Sewer Rates

The Water Board is proposing sweeping changes to New York City’s Water and Sewer Rates for fiscal 2012.  The following is a highlight of the changes to become effective

  • Multi Family Conservation (MCP) Rate will drop from $1,020.49 to $894.15 per apartment
  • A new MCP rate for “Low Consumption Commercial Unit” was created at $736.13 per store.
  • Meter rates for water and sewer will rise by 7 percent from $8.21 to $8.78 per hundred cubic feet (748 gallons).
  • Frontage Billing will cease to exist after June 31, 2012. All buildings on Frontage will be moved to MCP Rate. These buildings will have until June 31, 2015 to comply with MCP guidelines including but not limited to replacing all plumbing fixtures with Water Sense Plumbing fixtures.


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Ten Ways to Save the DEP – #6: Reduce Spending and Debt

While it’s true that most (if not all) of our Ten Ways to Save the DEP, point to the reduction of spending and debt in one way or another, they have all really been about other things. For example, we talked about stormwater rates, which would raise more money and therefore reduce debt. We talked about automating the permit process, thereby streamlining bureaucracy in order to reduce spending and debt. Even fixing the Delaware Aqueduct would save the DEP money because they’d no longer have 36 million gallons of water a day going to waste.

However, the purpose of the suggestion that you’re reading about now is to discuss one concrete proposal that the DEP can easily implement that would make them greener, safer and more efficient. We at WaterWatchNYC urge the DEP to adopt BMPs.

BMPs, or Best Management Practices, are a series of guidelines aimed at water pollution control. The guidelines also make treatment and distribution processes more efficient, thereby saving money. Just a short list of things that fall under the category of BMPs that can be implemented in NYC:

  • Semi-permeable surfaces
  • Green roofs
  • Xeriscaping
  • Rainwater harvesting

The best thing about BMPs is that the ideas and guidelines already exist. We do need someone to come up with the next big thing in water conservation and pollution management and control. But until then, we have existing guidelines set forth by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Let’s use them.


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Ten Ways to Save the DEP – #5: Fix the Delaware Aqueduct

The Delaware Aqueduct issue is one that has been covered before on this blog. Simply put, there is a leak in the 85-mile long Delaware Aqueduct which transports water from some of our upstate reservoirs to New York City. The aqueduct carries about half of our water from our various upstate reservoir systems and has been leaking for over 20 years. The current estimate has the leak at about 36 million gallons of water per day. For more details about the aqueduct leak, as well as a great attempt at a coverup by the DEP, see this past post.

In our past post linked to above, we said, “Unfortunately, little can be done at this point to actually fix the leak.” We stand by this statement. But we want the leak fixed anyway. How can we demand that the leak be fixed and still claim that little can be done to fix the leak? Simple. We’re asking that a system be put in place now that will allow the leak to be fixed down the road.

The leak can’t be fixed now because shutting down the Delaware Aqueduct cuts off about one half of our water. What we need now is redundancy. If we have another tunnel that can carry water from the Delaware Reservoir System to the city, we can completely shut down the Delaware Aqueduct and not lose half our water. This is the project we need to work on now so that we can fix the Delaware Aqueduct later.

We’re not saying anything new. The mayor’s PlaNYC, which has been around since 2007, calls for the same thing (conveniently, PlaNYC doesn’t say anything about the leak in the aqueduct). But the city bungled their first effort at setting this plan in motion when the Autonomous Underwater Vehicles that they had specially made in order to study the leak couldn’t obtain any useful information. Now, like many objectives of PlaNYC, no real progress has been made.

All we’re asking for is for the objectives of PlaNYC to be put in motion. We’ll stop wasting 36 million gallons of water a day, we’ll be a cleaner, greener city, the mayor will have kept at least one promise to his constituents and everyone will be happier (especially the residents of Wawarsing, NY, whose homes and yards are being flooded by the aqueduct leak).


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Ten Ways to Save the DEP – #4: Automate the Permit Process

As anyone who has ever taken out a DEP permit knows, it’s a long and arduous task. You have to fill out a form, go to the borough office, hand the form in and then wait. If you’ve gone to an efficient borough office you’ll wait in the office for a while before getting your permit back. But we all know that the words “efficient” and “DEP borough office” don’t usually go together. In most cases, you’ll have to go back to the office the next day and hope everything went smoothly to get your permit back.

Why hasn’t the DEP started allowing permit applications to be done online? Fill out an online form, hit submit and get a reply within 24 hours. Simple. The DOB’s forms are filled out this way and theirs are way more complicated than the DEP’s!

The best part about automating the permit process is that it doesn’t just make getting a permit easier for New York City plumbers. All New Yorkers will benefit. It will reduce errors and cost, which in turn will reduce the cost of the taxpayers. Streamlining the system will also make construction and city improvements smoother. In this economy, when the construction industry has been hit just about harder than anything else, these changes will go a long way. Every little bit helps.