Water Watch NYC

Everything you need to know about water in NYC.


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Ten Ways to Save the DEP – #10: Automate the Permit Process

Author: Matthew Cohen 12/03/21 1:01 PM (EST)

As anyone who has ever applied for a DEP permit knows, it’s a long & arduous task.

First, you have to fill out a form, travel to the borough office, hand in the form, and then wait. You’ll have to wait in the office for a while before getting your permit, even in the most efficient borough offices.  

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.

In light of the aforementioned inefficiency, why isn’t there a process to allow permit applications online? Other city agencies such as the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) allow a user to utilize an online form. Once this form is submitted, they typically receive a reply within 24 hours.

The DEP is such an important agency, yet it still uses antiquated methods. The DOB’s forms are considerably more complicated than the DEP’s, but their process is efficient.

Automation is a prerequisite for efficiency in today’s world. Whether it is a Government Agency, or a Small Business, almost everything is automated in 2021. The DEP simply needs to install the same automated system that the DOB uses, and notify the public that it is available.

The most preeminent feature of automating the permit process is that it benefits all New Yorkers (not just city Plumbers). Automation will reduce errors, and costs; the reduction in costs helps taxpayers save money as well

In addition, streamlining the system will also make construction & city improvements more efficient, and cost-effective. The current economic landscape gives the city another reason to make this change. Every industry has been affected by this; these changes will certainly make a measurable impact. Even small changes help, and typically have a ripple effect.

My hope is that the current administration takes this advice, it is rather simple to implement.

Ashokan Water Services contributed to this report


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How Eric Adams can make the DEP a beloved agency

Author: Matthew Cohen

Date: 11/16/2021

Eric Adams has a myriad of issues to address as he begins his tenure as the Mayor of New York City.

One of the more practical, cost-efficient, & simple fixes he can make is reforming the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) in regard to their Customer Service. The NYC DEP is integral to protecting our environment, yet it is universally misunderstood & hated. How can this agency be so important, yet is simultaneously loathed?

First & foremost, the Customer Satisfaction of the DEP is abhorrent. Water Industry Professionals (such as Plumbing Contractors) have to wait weeks in many cases, just to receive an obfuscated & vague response to an issue.

Whether it is billing issues, obtaining permits, answers to high priority inquiries, lack of transparency for Codes & Regulations, or exorbitant fines, it appears that this list is only a microcosm of the ineptitude displayed by the DEP.

This list of quagmires, & conundrums is quite extensive. Albeit true, I have my own list of solutions that I will post next week. Mayor Adams is the antithesis of the DEP; he’s a problem solver, and a true leader. I have confidence that if his administration takes my advice, the DEP can be reformed in less than 6 months.

Ashokan Water Services contributed to this article


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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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DEP Killing Financial Transparency

On August 13th, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (or DEP) announced the decision to deny public access to the Customer Information System (or CIS), despite the fact that it has allowed that access for over 30 years. This change in policy is set to go into effect on September 13th. According to the DEP, the service is being shut down due to the outdated nature of the system’s technology. However, no replacement for the system has been brought forward, and the DEP will continue to use the service themselves.  What has been touted as a necessary technological update appears to be a thinly veiled excuse to deny access to vital water billing information to the general public, with the only beneficiary being the DEP.

Currently, CIS provides water billing information for New York City properties going back to 1986. What makes this service so important is that water billing errors at a property can be readily identified based on the data that has been collected over those years. Once an error has been identified, an appeal can be written to correct and reduce the bill. However, without the ability to check for these errors in CIS, the DEP would be the only entity with this information, completely compromising any kind of consumer protection. In future water bill disputes, property owners will have to simply accept whatever ruling the DEP gives, and will have no evidence in their corner to try to reduce the bill. The DEP could simply ignore any data available only to them and determine that an incorrect bill was correct, with property owners having no way of disputing it. This change in policy creates a broken system that wipes away all billing transparency, and more or less incentivizes the DEP to legitimize incorrect water bills at the cost of New York City property owners.  

Withholding this information would also have a large impact on the sale of properties in the area, as prospective buyers and sellers would have limited knowledge on what regular water billing and usage would look like for a property. This type of data is definitely something that would have an effect on the value of a property. The lack of data would leave buyers in the dark or mislead them when attempting to make a purchase, and could make selling properties unnecessarily difficult.

It is absolutely clear that the only entity benefiting by this change would be the DEP, as any unchecked billing errors would put money in its pocket, to the direct detriment of the consumers. Not only would this affect current property owners, but members of the real estate industry would be left in the dark in terms of gathering important information regarding the properties they’re working with.  It would be a shame for such a blatantly one sided policy change to go into effect, considering the vast number of people who would be disenfranchised by the change.  The DEP claims that this is an unfortunate but necessary change due to outdated technology, but the fact that the technology will remain the same and the DEP will continue to use CIS tells a different story.   


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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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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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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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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