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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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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Ten Ways to Save the DEP – #6: Reduce Spending and Debt

While it’s true that most (if not all) of our Ten Ways to Save the DEP, point to the reduction of spending and debt in one way or another, they have all really been about other things. For example, we talked about stormwater rates, which would raise more money and therefore reduce debt. We talked about automating the permit process, thereby streamlining bureaucracy in order to reduce spending and debt. Even fixing the Delaware Aqueduct would save the DEP money because they’d no longer have 36 million gallons of water a day going to waste.

However, the purpose of the suggestion that you’re reading about now is to discuss one concrete proposal that the DEP can easily implement that would make them greener, safer and more efficient. We at WaterWatchNYC urge the DEP to adopt BMPs.

BMPs, or Best Management Practices, are a series of guidelines aimed at water pollution control. The guidelines also make treatment and distribution processes more efficient, thereby saving money. Just a short list of things that fall under the category of BMPs that can be implemented in NYC:

  • Semi-permeable surfaces
  • Green roofs
  • Xeriscaping
  • Rainwater harvesting

The best thing about BMPs is that the ideas and guidelines already exist. We do need someone to come up with the next big thing in water conservation and pollution management and control. But until then, we have existing guidelines set forth by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Let’s use them.


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Ten Ways to Save the DEP – #5: Fix the Delaware Aqueduct

The Delaware Aqueduct issue is one that has been covered before on this blog. Simply put, there is a leak in the 85-mile long Delaware Aqueduct which transports water from some of our upstate reservoirs to New York City. The aqueduct carries about half of our water from our various upstate reservoir systems and has been leaking for over 20 years. The current estimate has the leak at about 36 million gallons of water per day. For more details about the aqueduct leak, as well as a great attempt at a coverup by the DEP, see this past post.

In our past post linked to above, we said, “Unfortunately, little can be done at this point to actually fix the leak.” We stand by this statement. But we want the leak fixed anyway. How can we demand that the leak be fixed and still claim that little can be done to fix the leak? Simple. We’re asking that a system be put in place now that will allow the leak to be fixed down the road.

The leak can’t be fixed now because shutting down the Delaware Aqueduct cuts off about one half of our water. What we need now is redundancy. If we have another tunnel that can carry water from the Delaware Reservoir System to the city, we can completely shut down the Delaware Aqueduct and not lose half our water. This is the project we need to work on now so that we can fix the Delaware Aqueduct later.

We’re not saying anything new. The mayor’s PlaNYC, which has been around since 2007, calls for the same thing (conveniently, PlaNYC doesn’t say anything about the leak in the aqueduct). But the city bungled their first effort at setting this plan in motion when the Autonomous Underwater Vehicles that they had specially made in order to study the leak couldn’t obtain any useful information. Now, like many objectives of PlaNYC, no real progress has been made.

All we’re asking for is for the objectives of PlaNYC to be put in motion. We’ll stop wasting 36 million gallons of water a day, we’ll be a cleaner, greener city, the mayor will have kept at least one promise to his constituents and everyone will be happier (especially the residents of Wawarsing, NY, whose homes and yards are being flooded by the aqueduct leak).


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Ten Ways to Save the DEP – #4: Automate the Permit Process

As anyone who has ever taken out a DEP permit knows, it’s a long and arduous task. You have to fill out a form, go to the borough office, hand the form in and then wait. If you’ve gone to an efficient borough office you’ll wait in the office for a while before getting your permit back. But 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.

Why hasn’t the DEP started allowing permit applications to be done online? Fill out an online form, hit submit and get a reply within 24 hours. Simple. The DOB’s forms are filled out this way and theirs are way more complicated than the DEP’s!

The best part about automating the permit process is that it doesn’t just make getting a permit easier for New York City plumbers. All New Yorkers will benefit. It will reduce errors and cost, which in turn will reduce the cost of the taxpayers. Streamlining the system will also make construction and city improvements smoother. In this economy, when the construction industry has been hit just about harder than anything else, these changes will go a long way. Every little bit helps.


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Ten Ways to Save the DEP – #3: Stop Using the Water Board to Bypass Contract Bidding

Like every government agency, every so often the DEP needs to outsource some of its work. They need studies done to determine the efficiency of their procedures or they need construction done on new or existing facilities.

The fact that some of their work is outsourced actually should benefit the public. We don’t need the costs of training and maintaining additional DEP staff worked into our water/sewer rates. What we pay for water is already high enough. Let the DEP worry about being the best at distributing water to New York City and let them pay others to be the best at other things, like environmental impact studies and rate analysis studies.

Considering how often work is outsourced, it’s a good thing government agencies have a system in place to ensure that the outsourcing is executed fairly and efficiently. Whenever work needs to be outsourced the DEP puts out a Request for Proposals (RFP) and anyone interested responds in writing with what they can do to complete the work and how much they’ll charge to do it. The DEP now has to look at two things in each bid: 1) Can this company complete this job effectively? and 2) who will do it for the least amount of money?

After all, it is our money that these government agencies are throwing around. Following the rules above ensures that they’re not abusing that right.

If only this was how the DEP obtained their contracts. Steven Lawitts, Emily Lloyd and other past DEP commissioners found a way to bypass the contract bidding process and they milked it for all it was worth.

The purpose of the Water Board is to be a regulatory agency, constantly monitoring the DEP and keeping them in line. After all, the DEP’s capital budget is over $1 billion. Someone’s gotta make sure all that money is being used correctly. Ideally, as a regulatory agency, the Water Board should be watching everything the DEP does and telling them where they’ve overstepped their bounds. In actuality what the Water Board does is back up and support every action that the DEP takes.

Since the Water Board controls the DEP’s finances and blindly supports their every move, it stands to reason that all the DEP has to do is ask the Water Board for money for a specific project and the Water Board will hand it to them with a big smile on their faces. So instead of finding the company that will complete a job most effectively for the least amount of money, they just pick the company they want to work with and ask the Water Board to give them any amount of money they ask for without any regard for whether or not they’re the right people for the job.

This is how we got ourselves into the current Booz Allen Hamilton rate study mess. Years ago (under former DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd), the DEP asked the Water Board to pay BAH to audit its customer service and collections procedures. BAH came back (after asking for more money and turning in their report after the deadline) and said that in order to maximize collections the DEP needed to perform a rate study. Then they got the DEP to hire them (without putting out an RFP) to perform that rate study. They released their results a couple of weeks ago and they are woefully lacking.

Let’s break down the string of failures here, shall we? Audit of customer service and collections procedures goes straight to BAH without an RFP – failure #1. BAH asks for more money (which they get) and turns in the report late – failure #2. BAH report’s only conclusion is that to increase collections BAH should be hired again for more money to perform a rate study – failure #3. Rate study goes straight to BAH without an RFP – failure #4. Rate study comes back with no analysis or conclusions – failure #5.

So where we started with a simple, minor problem–the DEP giving a small contract to BAH without letting others bid on it–now we have a major problem in that we’ve shelled out millions of dollars for a report with no conclusions or recommendations. The original contract may have been small but because of it we ended up with bad advice and a poorly run agency!

At a recent Water Board hearing, Chairman Alan Moss asked if one of these days newly appointed DEP Commissioner Caswell Holloway could be brought in on a hearing. Moss’s reasoning behind the request? He wanted to assure Holloway in person that the Water Board is behind the DEP 100%. Does that sound to you like the right attitude for a regulatory agency to have?

Maybe if the Water Board started actually auditing the DEP’s expenses and maybe if the DEP stopped using the Water Board to bypass contract bidding, there wouldn’t be so much wasteful spending with our money.

[CORRECTION – 3/3/10: The assertions above, that the Booz-Allen contracts were obtained without competition, are incorrect. The public records indicate that the Booz-Allen contracts were procured through a competitive Request for Proposal process. The Water Board’s website posts the official minutes from past Water Board meetings. The minutes from the June 2008 meeting summarizes the competitive process the Water Board used to award the Booz-Allen contract.

We apologize to the DEP, Water Board and the public for the error .]