Water Watch NYC

Everything you need to know about water in NYC.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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NYC Energy & Water Use Report

Ashokan Water Services, Inc.  is honored to consult for the Urban Green’ New York City’s Energy and Water Use 2013 Report August 2016 Edition.

The report analyzes NYC water bench marking data and calculates the water usage to a variety of water heating systems. A study conducted by New York State concluded that one-pipe heating systems using more water than hydronic and vacuum steam heating systems. The study recommended that all one-pipe systems should be removed and replaced with hydronic systems to save water.

Urban Green CoucilAshokan’s analyst concluded that this is an erroneous correlation. There are a number of factors that can affect the water consumption of one-pipe systems such as malfunctioning pipes and unexpected leaks.

Rather than replacing the one-pipe system, one could easily install a meter to measure the water flow and to fix any leaks when detected; thus providing a frugal answer to a simple problem.

Ashokan Services would like to thank the Urban Green Council for providing the opportunity to contribute data and be included in their research.

For Ashokan, this is one more achievement on the path towards universal water conservation.

I would like to congratulate Hershel Weiss and Vadhil Amadiz for their diligent research; we all hope for more accomplishments in the future.


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Alfonso Carney Chairs Water Board Hearing — June 16th, 2017

Alfonso Carney
Alfonso Carney chairs water board meeting at which Hershel Weiss presented the following testimony:

“Hershel Weiss, President of Ashokan Water Services, Inc., which represents the owners of 8,500 buildings in NYC, who look to Ashokan for water conservation, bill monitoring and guidance through Water Board/DEP’s regulations.

  1. We object to the 2 items on today’s agenda. The NYC Water Board/DEP has done an excellent job of providing water and sewer service while keeping charges lower by sticking to its mission and only spending the money paid by its customers to actually provide and maintain water & sewer infrastructure etc, and by not diverting that money to anything outside its charter and purpose, such as pet causes of politicians.  Think of the way the Port Authority builds skyscrapers with the toll money that is supposed to maintain bridges and tunnels which are now falling into disrepair while there is nothing left in the till to pay for their maintenance.  If the Water Board is permitted to follow in the footsteps of such outfits and divert the money paid by customers for water/sewer use, soon the WB/DEP will just be another handy, cash-cow for politicians.  The infrastructure will suffer, funds will dwindle, and charges will skyrocket because customers will not just be paying for water and sewer use, but also to support pork-barrel handouts to whomever it pleases our City fathers to hand them out to.  We therefore strongly oppose the proposed giveaways on today’s agenda and demand the Water Board use any surplus monies—which are really easy enough to spend—on projects to provide water and sewer service to its customers.
  2. This brings me to a directly related matter. The storm-water fees the DEP charges parking lots were instituted as a ‘pilot-program’, meaning it was supposed to be a temporary experiment whereby the Water Board would study the benefits of such a program and its effects on storm-water conservation.  A report with findings was supposed to be generated, from which would arise either a recommendation to maintain or modify the program subject to approval in the usual manner, or else the program would be dropped.  Where is the report and what are the findings?  Why is the program still in effect?  If the DEP cannot support it with evidence from the experts who were supposed to monitor this study and get it approved at a hearing, it must be dropped.
  3. We also need clarification on the matter of compliance with MCP requirements. The DEP has not been enforcing the deadlines in effect under the Rate Schedule—we know it was the DEP’s intent last year to extend them, but the Court struck the proposed rate schedule and ordered the previous years’ to remain in effect.  Under its terms, the grace period for Automatically Enrolled properties to install DEP approved meters and AMR devices, and/or the required, high efficiency fixtures, expired on June 30, 2016, and these properties were to have been converted to Attributed Consumption Charges or metered billing.  Yet the DEP has not enforced this deadline, to our knowledge.  This has left your customers confused as to what the requirements truly are, and we request you state what they are in an official memo.
  4. Likewise, there is no consistent rule as to whether an MCP applicant with a mixed use building is required to separately meter the commercial portions with a downstream, BP meter, or by splitting the main. The rate schedule does not specify which is required.  The DEP has variously required the split or permitted the downstream BPs, and without any application for a variance.

    On this matter, we again request you state what rule is in an official memo.”

 

 


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Water is the Life of NYC

water_main    Created in 2008, the “Water is the Life of NYC” mural is the pride of Park Slope. Painted upon the side of 209 4th Avenue between Union and Sackett Streets, this mural depicts the ongoing water cycle of New York City from its origins in the rural provinces of New York State to the myriad of destinations throughout the more urban areas of New York.

Colorful, vibrant, and lively as the abundance of New Yorkers who pass this wall each day, the mural brings a small reminder to the people about where their clean and top-quality water derives from.  Illustrating the process by which NYC maintains its running water system, the mural brings awareness to the public about the precious and often overlooked part of our lives which we tend to forget how vital it truly is.

Spreading across the side of 290 4th Avenue, the mural depicts the origins of water as a romanticized view of Mother Nature in the form of billowing white clouds with flowing hair made of vapor. A flow of water is generously released from Mother Nature’s hands which fall into two reservoirs which service New York State, the Catskills and the Croton. The water, after its journey from the country, reservoirs and dam finally arrives at the faucet in which New Yorkers use for their daily use.

The lower left side of the mural shows the miners (affectionately known as “the Sandhogs”) create and maintain the water tunnels which bring water..

As seen with the figure filling up his bottle from the fountain, the mural itself promotes the use of reusable water bottles. Reusable water bottles are a great way to protect the environment instead of using single-use plastic bottles which are usually not completely recycled and ends up in our landfills and water systems. With this message, this mural hopes to show New Yorkers the cycle of our water in how we obtain it, use it, and protect it.

Ashokan is proud to be located in a community that expresses its love and respect for water.


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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?