Water Watch NYC

Everything you need to know about water in NYC.


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DEP Holds Important Meeting When Everyone Is On Vacation

On December 31st, the DEP held a virtual meeting to discuss Title 15, Chapter 20 of the Rules of the City of New York (RCNY), allowing attendees to voice their comments and concerns. Despite the meeting being held at a time when many people typically take time off, Hershel Weiss attended, and submitted a summation of his thoughts to the DEP afterwards, which you can read below:

My name is Hershel Weiss. I am a mechanical engineer, NYC Master Licensed Plumber, Past President of American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE), member of Building Owners and Managers (BOMA) Plumbing Committee,   principal at Ashokan, a firm specializing in Meter Reading and Backflow Testing. I have represented ASPE at the NYC Plumbing Code Adoption committee since its inceptions. 

 I cannot intelligently discuss the proposed modifications to RCNY chapter 20 of Title 15 in three minutes but would like to discuss the process.  A committee exists to review the NYC Plumbing Code, comprising members of the DOB, FDNY,  Con- Ed, National Grid, HPD,  Housing Authority, SCA, Parks Department, Port Authority, REBNY, BOMA,  Master Plumbers Council, Plumbing Foundation, American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE), American Society of Sanitary Engineers,  ASHRAE, all the plumbing unions and the largest plumbing and MEP firms, and the DEP.  We meet to discuss and propose all plumbing code changes. The meetings are well-attended, conducted in a cordial manner and result in a well thought out regulations and buildings codes. This process used to apply to both the Plumbing code and RCNY Chapter 20 of Title 15 , but  the DEP has circumvented the process –  as being done today.

I cannot highlight the importance of a committee meeting to discuss each and every modification proposed today,  but would like to touch on one sample issue. Years ago, the DEP had a plumbing and subsurface committee. At that committee, the DEP proposed requiring curb valves for domestic services under 2” as is being proposed today. At that time the following objections were raised:

  1. Real estate interest and homeowners was opposed to the cost estimated as an increase of 20- 35% in the price of water main replacement since an additional excavation would have to be created in the sidewalk. I am sure these parties are still opposed to the curb valve requirement, but have not been informed of this hearing. Furthermore, does the water board know that their water main insurance will increase by a third?
  2. The Parks Department was concerned about tree pits.
  3. Landmarks wanted an exemption where streets have bluestone pavers.
    1. None of these concerns are address in this modification

This is a simple item affecting multiple stakeholders. Other modification being proposed are much more complicated and warrant a conversation with all stakeholders.

I recommend that the proposed changes be shelved until a committee is convened to review each modification. I called many of the members of NYC’s Plumbing Code committee and they were not aware of today’s meeting. It is time for the DEP to stop operating in the dark.  Modifications to the law should not take place in meetings restricted to 3 minutes on New Year’s Eve.

Warren Liebold – We Will Miss You.

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We are saddened to hear the news of Warren Liebold’s passing on August 20. Warren was a colleague, friend and mentor to all of us at Ashokan. Nothing happened in the field of water conservation without his involvement. We first met when I was working for HPD and Warren was brought on by then DEP Commissioner Al Appleton to promote a new DEP rebate program. I assumed it would go nowhere. A year later it grew into the largest water conservation program in the United States, and as a result water consumption plummeted in NYC. He realized that greater reductions could be obtained by holding property owners responsible for their consumption, and rolled NYC’s Water meter installation program. He then decided to provide consumers with transparency tools to monitor consumption and created New York’s Automatic Meter reading Program. Due to his perseverance, everything he did was a great success.

In 1997 I discussed opening a water services company with him and he recommended that I name it Ashokan.

For twenty years we discuss food and film, but I was awed by Warren’s encyclopedic knowledge of water conservation. Everyone in the industry knew that if you attended a water conservation seminar Warren would be speaking and announcing a new program. No building code relating to water took place without Warren. We worked together on NYC’s Adoption of the International Plumbing Code, The Mayor’s Green Code Task Force, Water Reuse guidelines etc. If you live in NYC and take the water for granted you owe a debt of gratitude to Warren Liebold. He will be missed.


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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.