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.

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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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.

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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.

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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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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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Goodbye DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd

After over forty years of public service to the City of New York, DEP’s Commissioner Emily Lloyd has taken a definitive leave of retirement due to her medical condition.

We at Ashokan greatly thank Emily for her services to the public and for her contributions to the people of New York City. Emily has worked as the DEP’s Commissioner for two terms; the first during Mayor Bloomberg’s reign and now under de Blasio’s governing hands. Her efforts have and ensured that all NYC residents have access to the cleanest water in the eastern seaboard.

Ex-Commissioner Lloyd has an outstanding history of serving the public. She has held positions such as the Commissioner of Sanitation and as President of the Prospect Park Alliance. Ms. Lloyd’s efforts has done so much for the people of New York throughout her career in order to ensure the protection and maintenance of the city’s recreational areas.

We all wish her a warm goodbye and the best with her recovery in the future.


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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.


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De Blasio Proposes One-Time Water Bill Credit for All Small NYC Homeowners

Dressed in an ash grey suit with a periwinkle tie, Mayor Bill de Blasio exclaimed, “Today we are righting (sic) a wrong”.  Back in late April in Bay Ridge, Mayor de Blasio developed a plan for New York City homeowners to save money on their water bills by having the city present a one-time water credit to all homeowners within the five boroughs.

“This is part of an overall effort to address the needs of everyday working people all over the city to make sure that what city does is fair,” proclaimed de Blasio.

The push for this proposal was de Blasio’s belief that homeowners within the five boroughs were paying too much for their water bills. Backed by the Department of Environmental Protection’s Commissioner Emily Lloyd, de Blasio proposed a $183 one-time water bill credit to all homeowners with one to three family units within the five boroughs.

According to de Blasio, the proposed bill would cover about 664,000 homeowners for the summer. The 664,000 homeowners make up about 80 percent of all water bill accounts. With this one-time bill credit, homeowners can save 17 to 40 percent on their annual water bill.

Seniors who make up 120,000 of the total amount of homeowners residing in the city will also benefit greatly from an additional bill credit.

“This action we are announcing today will save homeowners across all five boroughs a total of 82 million dollars in fiscal year 2016, the fiscal year we are in right now. Eighty-two million,” said de Blasio.

According to the DEP, this credit program has already passed water board committee members and will be in effect as of July 1st. This is the first step in a series of changes the mayor is attempting to put into effect for water use policies.

 


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Water and Sewer Service Line Protection Program: IMPORTANT UPDATE

In a post from August I gave you all the nitty gritty details on the DEP’s Water and Sewer Line insurance program – which protects homeowners in the case of a costly service line repair.

WELL, I have an important update: according to the DEP, MIXED USE buildings (that is commercial buildings with attached single or multi-family dwellings) are now also eligible for the program!!!

All eligible buildings must still be:

  • Metered with wireless meter reading device installed
  • Billed on flat-rate or metered charges
  • Current on DEP charges or payment agreement
  • Equipped with a single service line that is 2″ or less in diameter

The cost of the program is still the same for all eligible properties whether residential or mixed use – $4.49 per month for water line protection and $7.99 per month for sewer line protection.

SO, if you own a mixed use building and didn’t think you were eligible before, definitely look into enrolling in the program.  You can find all the information you need at http://www.nyc.gov/html/dep/html/service_line_protection/index.shtml and even more in my blog post from August.

 

 

 


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Tunnel No. 3: A Huge Success Waiting to Fail

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We finally have a reliable system of water distribution in New York City. But don’t forget what our “reliable” system itself relies on.

Water comes to New York City in two steps. Yesterday, the second step of our waters’ journey became much safer, more reliable, and more sustainable. The completion of Water Tunnel No. 3 was a huge success for New York. With the addition of Tunnel No. 3, the DEP can now inspect and repair Tunnel No. 1, reduce leakage, and assure that our city’s water tunnels will last long into the future.

But what about the FIRST STEP in the water journey??? Before the city’s water ever touches the now “reliable” three tunnel system, it must travel over 80 miles from the Catskill Mountains and Delaware River through the Catskill and Delaware Aqueducts. And unfortunately, this part of the journey isn’t reliable.

There are two known leaks in the Delaware Aqueduct that collectively release between 33 and 37 million gallons of water per day (out of the 500 million gallons of daily flow). These leaks not only waste a significant amount of valuable water (enough to provide water for 300,000 people per day), but also cause drinking water contamination and flooding in local homes.

The DEP has known of these leaks since the 1990’s, but very little has been done to repair them. Before anything can happen, inspections must be completed and an alternative bypass tunnel must be built so that water can continue being delivered to the city throughout the repair process.

In 2010 the DEP released a plan for a $1.2 billion, 3 mile bypass tunnel to be built around the leaks. Construction was set to begin in January of this year, but progress has been slow and it will take years before any real repairs can begin. The DEP continues to roll back the start date.

With the Delaware Aqueduct supplying 50-80% of NYC’s water, it is imperative that these repairs are carried out. Because what’s the point of a brand new city tunnel if we can’t get any water to it?


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DEP and Water Board Agree: Revenue Good (But What’s Conservation?)

The DEP has been promoting water conservation for two decades, since the droughts of the 1980s.  But June 17, 2011, the Water Board’s last meeting of the fiscal year, marked the end of an era of “conservation” rhetoric. Gone are the days of saving water and taxpayer money. The future is all about increased sales and maximum revenue: consumption, not conservation.

Source: NYC Water Board Financial Update – 6/7/2011

According to their financial presentation, the DEP collected $2.68 billion from residents last year and surpassed their own revenue projections by 2%. The good news: that’s the first time since 2005 that they haven’t made less money than hoped. The bad news: that’s also almost nine billion more gallons of water used, plus the $51 million more that taxpayers coughed up to pay for it. So why, after worshiping ‘less is more,’ are more water and more revenue suddenly a triumph? Over the past ten years, usage decreased for all but two of them (see the Water Board’s report, page 29). Now, with our water use back up to near 2009 levels, water is just a stream of revenue again.

Pay no attention to how our water rates are higher than ever, every year. (This year’s 7.5% hike to $8.21 is somehow the lowest rate hike since 2006.) All that seems to matter to the DEP and Water Board is that more people get more water and pay more and more for it. The leading concern of the Water Board, according to their Mission Statement, is whether “revenue collections will satisfy revenue requirements of the [Water and Sewer] System.”

The only kind of waste that makes sense in this System is wasted potential: water not sold, consumption not metered, bills not paid. More revenue can be good for the whole city. It just depends on why there’s more of it. More paying customers come naturally with more people in the city, which in turn requires expanded services. Still, the DEP has maintained that distributing more water will bring down its cost to residents. The ‘reduced increase’ of this year’s rate seems to corroborate that a bit, yet the DEP can only continue to reap increasing revenue at the increased expense of residents. Is such public service really self-service or endless debt service? For instance, are “same-customer sales” a real measure of success for a public agency? Does the fact that each customer paid (on average) 19.2% more in October 2010 to use 6% more water than in October 2009 constitute a win for New York City?

As it is, revenue maximization is our current course. Meanwhile, conservation is a promised land saved for rainy days. Where we’ll end up, though, depends on who adjusts the sails.