Water Watch NYC

Everything you need to know about water in NYC.


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Shakeup at the Water Board

While the mayor has said that he would renegotiate the rental agreement with the Water Board, the current fiscal crisis facing the city is making that scenario seem quite unlikely. This means that the Water Board is going to continue paying the city exorbitant fees for the use of the reservoirs and subsequently, New Yorkers’ water rates are going to continue to climb astronomically.

Former Water Board Chairman Jim Tripp set a bold precedent recently when he resigned his post in protest of the mayor’s intransigence. Since then, two more members have left the Water Board, Marilyn Gelber and Maria Santos Valentin. It seems that no one wants to be the bad guy blamed for New York’s upcoming rate increases.

Meanwhile, the Water Board is holding a public hearing on Thursday, November 20, most likely to announce three new members. (The new members are appointed by Mayor Bloomberg and will no doubt support his position on the lease agreement.) Details can be found on the Water Board website.

With three of the board’s members expected to join this week, a majority of its seven members will have been sitting on the board for less than two years. (Current chairman Alan Moss was elected in early 2007.)


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New Acting DEP Commissioner Appointed

The DEP’s Deputy Commissioner, Steve Lawitts (who, if you remember, was biking through Amsterdam when former Commissioner Emily Lloyd announced her resignation), has been appointed Acting Commissioner of the DEP.

He previously worked for the Department of Sanitation and currently retains his post as Executive Director of the Water Board. (UPDATE 4/21/09: He is also a board member on the Municipal Water Finance Authority. Now all he has to do is get elected mayor and he could control every aspect of water in NYC!)


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The Water Board’s Not-So-Public Notice

On September 29th, the Water Board released a public notice regarding the extension of frontage. Any recent visit to the Water Board website and you’re bound to find this public notice, right? Wrong!

This new public notice is secreted away with nearly a dozen other obscure public notices. The is no indication on the site’s homepage that there is a new public notice to be viewed; they just took a controversial issue like extending frontage and did what they could to pass it below the radar without notifying people that it’s happening or what they can do to protest it.

The internet should be used to share information. The Water Board didn’t even have a website until less than a year ago, opting instead to keep all their goings-on a secret. We thought that their new website would be a great way to finally inform the public about the operations of a city entity that had previously been shrouded in secrecy. But if the Water Board isn’t using their website to share information and inform the public, what is it for?


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The Lease Agreement Explained

As a response to a comment by a loyal reader on a previous post, I would like to briefly explain what’s known as “the lease agreement.” This will hopefully help readers understand why it is such a hot-button issue (Jim Tripp resigned over it) and even why the DEP and Water Board charge so much for water.

The reservoirs that serve New York City belong to the city. The city has authorized the DEP and various other bodies (the Water Board, the Municipal Water Authority) to distribute water throughout the city, collect payments for the water used, perform capital improvements on the infrastructure and, most importantly, to borrow money to pay for the capital improvements (what each body does in this scheme is not that important and is, frankly, pretty complicated). In order to do all of this, the DEP (for simplicity’s sake, from now on when I refer to the DEP, I mean the DEP and the other bodies that deal with water) needs to use the reservoirs. The city has allowed the DEP to use the reservoirs, but for a price.

This is where it gets complicated. Instead of charging the DEP a fixed amount to lease the reservoirs, the city charges the DEP a percentage of the amount of money that they (the DEP) borrow for capital improvements.

The outcome of all this is that as time goes on and the DEP needs to sink (no pun intended) more and more money into capital improvements just to maintain a decent quality (and quantity) of service, the amount of money that they are paying to the city for using the reservoirs goes up and up. Therefore, our water rates go up to help pay for the increasing capital improvement and they go up some more to pay for the increasing price of the reservoirs’ lease.

The further injustice of all this is that the city then takes this money and uses it for whatever they want. They get the money from the DEP which gets it from those of us that use water in the city. They get the money from us and the DEP specifically for the water infrastructure. And then they turn around and use it for whatever else they want.

At this point it is just another way for Bloomberg to get money without raising taxes. It seems like a good deal: the city gets money and since our taxes don’t go up, we think we’re not paying for it. But anyone who has seen their new water bills knows that we definitely are paying for it – to the tune of $5.98 per hundred cubic feet of water.


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Continuing Coverage of Tripp’s Resignation

I recently received a phone call from a reliable source in the City Council. This source enlightened me regarding various factors that were not initially evident that have contributed to the resignation of former Water Board Chairman Jim Tripp.

I was told that the timeline of events did not occur in the order that they were reported. The public was initially told that Tripp had stepped down and that Alan Moss was selected to replace him. Actually, what happened was Mayor Bloomberg took away Tripp’s chairmanship and gave it to Moss. As a response to this Tripp stepped down.

Clearly the mayor wanted Tripp out. He couldn’t completely remove Tripp from the Water Board because members are selected for four year terms and the mayor can’t force them out in the middle of their terms. So the mayor did the only thing he could: not let Tripp be chairman. Tripp responded as I’m sure the mayor expected, by stepping down completely.

The second piece of information I received is even more scandalous. Why was Moss selected as the new chairman? Apparently, six of the seven Water Board members (this was back when Tripp was on the Water Board and there were seven members) signed a letter to City Hall urging the mayor to reconsider the current rental agreement (the amount that the DEP pays the city for use of the reservoirs, currently estimated at a whopping $122 million). Who was the one and only Water Board member that didn’t question Mayor Mike’s decision to continue forwarding this enormous cost onto NYC’s residents? You guessed it! Alan Moss.

There you have it. Tripp said in May that he considered quitting over the Mayor’s recalcitrance but, being the loyal and dedicated environmentalist that he is, he plugged on hoping to be able to make a difference despite the mayor’s stubbornness. That was until the mayor underhandedly removed him and made his opinions as well as his dedication all but useless. It would appear that with the city budget skyrocketing, Mayor Bloomberg and Mark Page, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, are making sure that the DEP pays the entire rental agreement.

I’ve said it before but now, in light of this new information, I say it again with renewed enthusiasm. Chairman Tripp served us well for 16 years. His tenacity, dedication and, most of all, his desire to stand up for what’s right will be sorely missed.


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A Closer Look at the Resignation of Jim Tripp

Any New Yorker who has ever gotten a traffic ticket while Mike Bloomberg has been in office likely knows about Bloomberg’s brilliant ideas to increase the city’s income without raising taxes.

For many years, one of the city’s greatest sources of income has been their lease agreement with the Water Board. The Water Board pays the city exorbitant amounts for their use of the reservoirs and tunnels. The amount paid depends not on the value of these systems but is a percentage of the DEP’s spending. The more the DEP spends on things like upkeep and expansion, the more revenue the city gets. The worst part is that the city doesn’t even have to use this money for water related issues. They can use it for anything from education to street paving.

The city has a similarly absurd agreement with the DEP regarding sanitation. Since dirty streets contaminate clean water when it rains, the city charges the DEP for street cleaning.

These are two of the biggest issues currently facing the DEP and the Water Board. Former Water Board Chair Jim Tripp fought hard against this type of backdoor financing and in July, 2008 considered resigning over the lease agreement. Was the city’s intransigence on this issue the straw that broke the camel’s back?

New York City will miss Jim Tripp’s perseverance.  Will the new Water Board Chair, Alan Moss, fight for what’s best for the residents of New York, or is he in the pocket of the city officials that got him appointed to the Water Board in the first place?


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Rates Going Up

As most of you probably already know, the Water Board approved the requested 14.5% water/sewer rate increase at their meeting last week.

On the bright side though, Water Board Chairman Jim Tripp mentioned that the mayor’s office claims to be looking into the possibility of lowering the DEP’s rental agreement. If this actually happens, the DEP would be paying the city a more reasonable price for the use of the city’s reservoirs and the city would minimize, or even eliminate, its unfair back door financing. This would also allow the DEP to lower its operating cost and hopefully, its rates as well.

WaterWatchNYC hopes the city goes through with this plan but frankly, we’re not holding our breath.


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DEP Asks Water Board for 14.5% Water/Sewer Rate Increase

NYC Water Board Chairperson, Jim TrippThe NYC Water Board met on Friday morning to discuss the rate increase for fiscal year 2009, to go into effect July 1, 2008. It seems as though rate increases are the only things they talk about these days. If you think the water and sewer rates are high now, just wait until July.

Consider this: The current DEP water/sewer rate is $5.23 per hundred cubic feet (hcf). The DEP hopes to raise the rate to $5.99 per hcf. That’s an astronomical 14.5% increase. Click here for a pdf graph of historical water and sewer rates to see how this one compares.

It makes me wonder. What happened to the DEP’s claim last year that an 11.5% increase over the next few years would be sufficient? What happened to the DEP’s claims that all they needed to recover their costs and avoid rate hikes was the ability to sell liens and terminate service?

Here’s the real problem. The DEP’s budget has doubled in the last few years and they’re spending all their money on capital improvement the interest of which will only haunt us in the future. They claim that they need to raise their rates because of their rising costs, but instead of examining those costs, the Water Board chooses to discuss only small consulting contacts that the DEP has subverted from their own contract process to the Water Board in order to avoid competitive bidding. The public’s lack of interest and participation only emboldens the DEP to constantly raise rates.

So what can a consumer do? Before the Water Board is allowed to approve this increase they must meet once with the public in each borough to hear their concerns. DO NOT PASS UP THIS OPPORTUNITY. The only thing that prevents the DEP from taking your money is a public outcry. The meetings will be held at the following times in the following locations. Show up and make yourself heard!

  • Bronx: Monday, May 5, 2008 at 6:00 pm. Manhattan College, De La Salle Hall, Room 209, 4513 Manhattan College Parkway, Bronx, NY 10471.
  • Queens: Tuesday, May 6, 2008 at 11:00 am. Dept. of Environmental Protection Training Room, 6th Floor, 59-17 Junction Boulevard, Flushing, NY 11373.
  • Staten Island: Tuesday, May 6, 2008 at 6:00 pm. College of Staten Island Center for the Arts, Recital Hall, 2800 Victory Boulevard, Staten Island, NY 10314.
  • Manhattan: Wednesday, May 7, 2008 at 5:30 pm. St. John’s University – Manhattan, Room 123, 101 Murray Street, New York, NY 10314.
  • Brooklyn: Thursday, May 8, 2008 at 6:00 pm. Brooklyn College Student Center, Alumni Lounge (opposite Whitehead Hall), East 27th Street and Campus Rd., Brooklyn, NY 11210.

For more information, see the new NYC Water Board website.