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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Kathryn Garcia – The Environmental Candidate

New York City mayoral candidate Kathryn Garcia

With the Democratic Mayoral primaries fast approaching, we at Ashokan Water have environmental concerns on the forefront of our minds. While many of the candidates have taken the time to address the environmental issues facing the City; none are as well versed with the issues as Kathryn Garcia. Ms. Garcia has spent her career within government working on the city’s largest environmental issues. Her work for our City speaks for itself.  Having held several positions in the NYC Department of Environmental Protection under Mayor Bloomberg, Kathryn Garcia was tasked with overseeing The Bureau of Water Supply, the Bureau of Water and Sewer Operations, and the Bureau of Wastewater Treatment. In later years, Ms. Garcia went on to become the Commissioner of the NYC Department of Sanitation where she again tackled the city’s environmental issues. Garcia helped to pass the city’s waste equity law (in 2018) helping distribute the waste burden on the city’s communities equally and not more heavily on lower income communities as had previously been the case. 

The change that Kathryn Garcia has implemented in our city proves that she truly understands and cares about environmental protection and conservation within our city. Other candidates speak about the environment, but Garcia is a true technocrat, and clearly the environmental candidate to rally behind.


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Why the Taste of NYC Water May Change in 2022

Our friend Charles Sturcken of the DEP recently explained why water tastes different in different parts of New York City, and why the taste may change in 2022.

Neighborhoods in New York City receive their drinking water from reservoirs of the Catskill System, Croton System, Delaware System, or a combination of the three systems. The chemistry of each water source is different because of the underlying geology that surrounds our reservoirs in the Catskills and the Hudson Valley. Differences in bedrock and soil affect pH, alkalinity, calcium content and other chemical characteristics of our drinking water. Water consumers will generally not notice these small differences. However, those who use New York City water to operate industrial equipment and mechanical systems might notice that changes in water chemistry require adjustments to their treatment systems, maintenance regiments and other upkeep routines.

Croton Distribution into Manhattan & Bronx with Pumping to Queens
A map of where different water sources supply different neighborhoods in New York City.

From the end of May until October, the DEP expects the reservoir and distribution systems to be in their normal operating condition. That configuration will likely change in October when the DEP shuts the Catskill Aqueduct for the final year of a rehabilitation project that will keep the century-old aqueduct in good working order for the next 100 years. Continued updates of the water distribution maps and other information can be found at https://www1.nyc.gov/site/dep/water/current-water-distribution.page .


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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.

failedconservationgraphs-e1508864171748.jpg

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.

nyc-water-consumption-graph-e1507649174413.jpg

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


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Ashokan Services Supports the B.A.N.G. Land Trust!

cropped-bears2011To show our commitment to environmental stewardship and conservation, Ashokan Services provides backflow device testing free of charge for the Brooklyn Association of Neighborhood Gardens Land Trust. These green spaces, located in Park Slope and Prospect Heights, are vital open spaces used for gardening and recreation.  This wonderful organization is dedicated to cultivating sustainable environments through community, collaboration, and education.  We are proud to work with B.A.N.G. in maintaining green space in our community!


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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.