Water Watch NYC

Everything you need to know about water in NYC.


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NYC Water and Sewer Rate Increase

The DEP held a public water board meeting on Friday April 29th and proposed a 4.9% water rate increase, citing lower consumption and water bills not being paid. Consumers will be shocked, as there has been minimal increases in recent years, and this would be the LARGEST increase that we have seen in some time. We predict that the DEP will reduce the increase from 4.9% to 4.7%.

The meeting also included measures to increase the late payment fee, and an increase in capital construction funding by 21%. There will be public hearings held in the coming months with rate updates and revisions for NYC.


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Ten Ways to Improve the DEP – #9: Fix the “My DEP” website

If you’re a New York City property owner and have a building registered with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), you might be familiar with the water meter services available on the “My DEP” customer website. You have the ease and convenience of paying your water bill online, as well as viewing your building’s water consumption, but it isn’t as easy to access real-time water meter reads or even convenient to add another building to your account (without spending a lot of time on the phone with DEP staff). Once upon a time you did – what happened?

On September 13th 2019, the DEP made a “necessary technological update” to the customer site which ultimately limited the availability of valuable meter data, complicated the user interface, and removed the ability for building owners to read their own meters (at one time, plumbers were able to see every water meter installed in a building, but now, fire and water meters that are on monitor status can no longer be seen.).

Since property managers can’t effectively monitor their buildings and navigate the “new and improved” site, many can’t make bill payments (there has been a noticeable increase in late bill payments, and a general decrease in the number of bills being paid – period.).

Why can’t consumers view and utilize their own water meter data and accurately monitor the consumption rate? Why can’t a property manager add another property to their account without having to contact a representative from the DEP?

Transparency is no longer the name of the game, and unfortunately, it’s at the detriment of both the consumer and the DEP. Regaining access to public information and reinstating the basic function of the My DEP website is just the start, and the results could spell an improved relationship between the organization and the frustrated property managers of New York City.


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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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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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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.


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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 .]


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Ten Ways to Save the DEP – #2: Introduce Stormwater Fees

Almost any effective CSO mitigation plan that the city can possibly come up with will involve the creation of large multi-billion dollar retaining tanks and force our water/sewer rates to skyrocket. So here comes our out of the box thinking: How can we mitigate the negative effects of CSO without spending billions of dollars restructuring our sewer system?

The Citizens Action Committee (CAC), made up of industry experts, recommended that the city use water and sewer rates to incentivize owners to retain water on site. Currently, New York property owners do not pay to dump stormwater but by levying such charges the city can effectively incentivize owners to retain water on site and eliminate CSO occurrences, as the CAC recommended. More importantly, the administrative costs to the city would be minuscule compared to the billions that would be spent building huge tanks. As a bonus, on site retention can also have other environmental benefits (for example, green roofs mitigate the effects of urban heat island).

In recognition of the above, the mayor’s PLANYC Sustainable Stormwater Management Plan 2008, Initiative 10 states:

The City’s current water rate structure is comprised of a charge for consumption of water and an additional 159 percent for all sewer, stormwater, and wastewater services. Because this rate structure fails to reflect the true costs of stormwater generation and can lead to distortions, the City is currently undertaking a yearlong study to consider improvements. The City is analyzing its current expenditures, reviewing the rate and credit programs of other municipal water systems, and estimating the impacts of alternative stormwater rate structures on ratepayers and revenues. This effort will be coordinated with other ongoing efforts to map impervious areas in the City and to overhaul the program for water bills.

The “yearlong study to consider improvements” that the plan refers to is Booz Allen Hamilton’s (BAH) rate study, the results of which were released last week. (You may remember BAH from many of the other studies they performed for the DEP in the past. They are, after all, the DEP’s favorite go-to accounting firm when using the Water Board to bypass the contract bidding process.) The first thing worth mentioning is that this “yearlong study” took more than a year. Shocker.

But that’s not as important as the results. So let’s look at the results. The DEP paid BAH over a million dollars to “[analyze] its current expenditures, [review] the rate and credit programs of other municipal water systems, and [estimate] the impacts of alternative stormwater rate structures on ratepayers and revenues.” I would have thought that BAH would calculate the administrative costs involved and the feasibility of enacting a stormwater fee. Then they would project the savings as a result of on site stormwater retention and avoidance of the creation of stormwater retention facilities. I expected graphs indicating the relationship between the different possible stormwater rates and expected consumer response. (If we charge 5% of the water rate we need $2 million to implement the program but it’ll take us 20 years to recover that two million. If we charge 30% of the water rate  we need $2 million to implement the program and we’ll recover the costs in less than a year. Something like that.) In short, how large (or small) a fee would you have to implement to start seeing a savings.

What BAH did instead was what every college student does when the deadline is up and they haven’t done any of their work. They reiterated the question. Don’t get me wrong–they did it well. They included five pages of meaningless charts (fancy, but meaningless) showing which cities use which rate structures. But they didn’t address the crux of the problem. There is nothing in the report about the effectiveness of such a program, what it would cost the DEP to implement it and how much can be saved by stormwater avoidance.

The only thing BAH actually put forth in their conclusions (slide 30 of this presentation) is the following: “New billing system must be in place in order to fully implement a City-wide stormwater rate structure and credit program.” It’s subtle. Did you catch it? It sounds to me like BAH’s pitch to sell the DEP a new rate program, one that would no doubt take another few years and another few million dollars.

In summary, we hope that the good people at the DEP and the Water Board go ahead with stormwater rates and are not put off by the BAH report. To quote the mayor’s office in Appendix K to the Sustainable Stormwater Management Plan, Environmental Entrepreneurs, a national community of over 850 prominent business leaders who believe in protecting the environment while building economic prosperity, had the following to say about stormwater rates:

We strongly urge the City to include in the Plan a firm commitment to restructure the water rates to implement a separate stormwater fee, varying based on the imperviousness of a site, as soon as possible. We understand that a rate restructuring study is now underway and urge that the consultants conducting that study be asked not whether a separate stormwater fee is practicable – because we know it is, based on the experience of many jurisdictions around the country – but rather how to implement such a fee structure in New York City as soon as possible.

Again, special thanks to the good folks at SWIM for fighting for this one. We’ve even heard DEP Deputy Commissioner of Environmental Planning and Analysis Angela Licata advocating for stormwater fees at a few Water Board hearings.