Water Watch NYC

Everything you need to know about water in NYC.


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Good News: Low-income families will receive assistance paying water bills

Governor Kathy Hochul announced that $69.8 million in federal funds will be made available to support low-income New Yorkers in paying past-due bills for drinking water and wastewater. The Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP), provides eligible applicants with “up to $2,500 for drinking water arrears and $2,500 for wastewater arrears to help them avoid service interruptions when the moratorium on shutoffs expires next month.”

This initiative will assist approximately 105,000 homes within New York.

According to Governor Hochul, the program was created to help struggling New Yorkers recover from the pandemic. Anyone who is interested can simply apply online.

Ashokan Water Services Contributed to this report


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Ten Ways to Improve 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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Ten Ways Eric Adams can improve the DEP

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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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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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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We went to the January 2018 NYC Water Board Meeting so you didn’t have to

Public hearings can be long and tedious.  The process is boring, and attendance tends to be low.  Such is the case with the New York City Water Board’s public hearing.  However, these meetings have huge implications for water costs in New York City, so representatives from Ashokan Water Services (that’s us!) went to represent the interests of New York City water consumers and bill payers.  On Friday, January 26, 2018 the New York City Water Board held a public hearing at 8:30am followed by a meeting at 9:30am.  The issues on the table were whether to repeal the 2.1% increase to water and sewer rates allowed under the December 19, 2017 decision of Prometheus Realty Corp vs. New York City Water Board, and whether to extend the deadline to comply with the terms of the Multifamily Conservation Program to December 31, 2018.

In the Prometheus case, the Water Board was accused of unfairly implementing the 2.1% rate increase and issuing a $183 tax credit to only a certain tax class.  To address the rate increase issue of the Prometheus decision, the Water Board hired Amawalk Consulting Group to assess their revenues and financial standing.  Their findings showed that the Water Board is in good financial standing. This means that the 2.1% water rate increase is not necessary to fund the FY2018 budget, and that water and wastewater fees are reasonable as they currently stand.  Although no rate increases are being adopted at the moment, the board will meet again in April with a rate proposal for FY2019.

A representative spoke on behalf of the Rent Stabilization Association, commending the decision to repeal the rate increase.  He also suggested that all tax-classes should be considered to receive credit, for there was no basis upon which one tax class should be singled out.  He advocated for a full elimination of the $183 rebate, and in favor of continued rate freezes.  He expressed belief that the Multifamily Conservation Program (MCP) should be expanded to include additional buildings willing to meet the qualifications.  The current eligibility base is too small for substantial water conservation in the city to be realized- a belief that we share here at Ashokan Water Services. (Check out more of our opinions on the matter here!)

The 2017 Water Rate Schedule stated that properties that did not provide evidence of MCP compliance would receive a penalty charge of 10% of their bill.  Compliance includes the property having four or more units, wireless meter reading devices, and proof that conservation efforts are being made such that water consumption decreases.  However, the penalty was never assessed since its proposal a year ago, even though approximately 10,000 properties have not provided evidence of compliance dating back to 2012.  At this meeting, the board proposed to extend the compliance deadline to December of 2018.  To implement this, the Department of Environmental Protection claims that they will “immediately begin enhanced outreach and engagement with the affected properties.”

However, no insight was provided as to how the DEP will do this.  Representing Ashokan Water Services, Hershel Weiss voiced his concerns at the public hearing.  Our main qualm is that MCP regulations have not been enforced in the past, so no one complied with the guidelines.  Albeit, these process guidelines are still unclear, and no one understands who has to submit applications.  Our request (which Hershel has voiced at approximately 14 different Water Board public hearings over the years) is simple- the Water Board must write a clear directive stating specific guidelines, a checklist for compliance, and who needs to submit applications.

The Water Board assured everyone at the hearing that they would take all comments and concerns into consideration.  “We don’t come predisposed,” said Alfonso Carney, the chair of the Water Board, “we will use what the members of the public say.”  This sentiment is expressed at every meeting, and nothing substantial comes of it.  We did not expect this meeting to yield different results, but our fingers are crossed nonetheless.

The Water Board with reconvene in a few months.  Updates regarding their public hearings and meetings can be found here.

Allegra Miccio


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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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Mayor de Blasio Assigns DEP Acting Commissioner

imageMayor de Blasio appointed Vincent Sapienza as acting Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner earlier this month to replace the departing Emily Lloyd. Sapienza has been dragged to the front row as a figurehead representing the DEP after maintaining a non-political post in charge of the DEP’s infrastructure.

The boots Sapienza will be stepping into will no doubt be muddy. Emily Lloyd left behind a number of major challenges that need to be addressed immediately.

The first challenge is the absence of the water rate increase. For the first time since 1995, the water rate increase was revoked by court.   How will the Water Board balance its budget if New York City citizens won’t be charged more for water? This is great news for the people but what will happen to the dynamics of political funds?

Another challenge Sapienza will duel with are concerns the Multi-family Conservation Program (MCP) applications. MCP allows flat-rate billing of water bills for buildings with four or more apartments. The MCP program can help save water but thousands of MCP applications are backed up and the MCP guidelines are being ignored. Is the DEP withholding from processing these applications because they know they will lose money?

These problems presented require a permanent commissioner, not from an acting commissioner.  I strongly urge Mayor de Blasio to appoint Vincent Sapienza to be the permanent DEP commissioner so these issues can be dealt with. This is a time of crisis for the DEP, the DEP’s reputation and trust from the people are at stake and we need someone with a firm grip on the steering wheel, not an acting commissioner.

 


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Victory for Taxpayers of New York

Just short of a week ago, Supreme Justice Carol Edmead voided the Water Board and City Hall’s authority to impose a water rate hike for this year as well as terminated the program to reimburse small homeowners on their water bill credit.

Citing unfair and preferential distribution of funds, the city of New York and the Water Board were stopped in their tracks by the people of New York.

Thanks should be given to Joseph Strasburg of the Rent Stabilization Association who fought against City Hall and the Water Board for this win for the people of New York.

Further applause should be given to Justice Edmead who is protecting the taxpayers of New York and our fragile water system from the greedy hands of politicians.