Water Watch NYC

Everything you need to know about water in NYC.


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Water is the Life of NYC

water_main    Created in 2008, the “Water is the Life of NYC” mural is the pride of Park Slope. Painted upon the side of 209 4th Avenue between Union and Sackett Streets, this mural depicts the ongoing water cycle of New York City from its origins in the rural provinces of New York State to the myriad of destinations throughout the more urban areas of New York.

Colorful, vibrant, and lively as the abundance of New Yorkers who pass this wall each day, the mural brings a small reminder to the people about where their clean and top-quality water derives from.  Illustrating the process by which NYC maintains its running water system, the mural brings awareness to the public about the precious and often overlooked part of our lives which we tend to forget how vital it truly is.

Spreading across the side of 290 4th Avenue, the mural depicts the origins of water as a romanticized view of Mother Nature in the form of billowing white clouds with flowing hair made of vapor. A flow of water is generously released from Mother Nature’s hands which fall into two reservoirs which service New York State, the Catskills and the Croton. The water, after its journey from the country, reservoirs and dam finally arrives at the faucet in which New Yorkers use for their daily use.

The lower left side of the mural shows the miners (affectionately known as “the Sandhogs”) create and maintain the water tunnels which bring water..

As seen with the figure filling up his bottle from the fountain, the mural itself promotes the use of reusable water bottles. Reusable water bottles are a great way to protect the environment instead of using single-use plastic bottles which are usually not completely recycled and ends up in our landfills and water systems. With this message, this mural hopes to show New Yorkers the cycle of our water in how we obtain it, use it, and protect it.

Ashokan is proud to be located in a community that expresses its love and respect for water.


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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.


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Conservation or Economy?

At last Friday’s Water Board meeting, it was announced that the 6% drop in water consumption has increased to above 7%. While the DEP, Water Board and this blog have in the past attributed this reduction in water use to conservation, we would now like to explore the possibility that something else is going on here.

While we are sure that some of this reduction in consumption is due to conservation, the possibility was raised on Friday that more than just conservation may be at play here. As the economy continues to suffer and more and more businesses close their doors, it stands to reason that less water will be used. Therefore, it makes sense to say that this unprecedented drop in water consumption should not be entirely attributed to conservation, but some “credit” should go to the weak economy.

This makes the DEP’s job of predicting future water consumption extremely difficult. In the past, the DEP could safely predict an annual 1% drop in water consumption due to conservation. Now that the economic climate is affecting water consumption, the DEP must predict how much longer and to what degree consumption will continue to drop above and beyond the 1% per year figure. And when consumption starts picking up again, the DEP must predict how long it will take and how much consumption will increase.

In the past we have been hard on the DEP. I don’t mean to say that we won’t continue to be hard on them. Hopefully, our past and future criticism of the DEP will enable changes that benefit both New York residents and the DEP. But we do have to recognize that every now and then the DEP is thrown a curveball and we hope they continue to do their best to deal with those curveballs as they come.