Big Turnout for Public Meeting on NYC's Plans to Reduce Combined Sewer Overflows in our Waters
Updated: Sep 29
SWIM Coalition members and supporters from all over the city turned out in large numbers on November 15th for the NYC DEP public meeting about the City’s plans to address the ~20 billion gallons of Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO’s) that discharge into our waterways each year.
Waterway stakeholders from around the City posed questions about the City’s plans for specific waterways as well as the status of the Green Infrastructure program.
Our colleagues at Hudson Riverkeeper provided a live feed of the meeting on their Facebook Page for those who were unable to attend the meeting in person. You can view the meeting footage here.
Fact sheets for each individual waterbody that is getting a CSO Long Term Control Plan were distributed at the meeting and will be available on the DEP website along with a brochure about the plans which can be found here.
Here is the set of presentation documents NYC Department of Environmental Protection officials reviewed during the meeting.
SWIM Coalition member, Natural Resources Defense Council, provided a comprehensive and detailed overview of the meeting topics on their blog here.
Below are a few highlights from the discussions that took place during the meeting:
In an nutshell, we walked out of the meeting feeling that many formidable challenges lie ahead before the City of New York’s waterways are safe enough for New Yorkers to swim and fish in them without being exposed to pathogens that might make them sick.
During the meeting,City and State officials “got an earful” from concerned citizens and waterway stakeholders; especially in response to NYC DEP’s proposal to chlorinate rather than capture CSO discharges in three waterways.
Officials delivered quite a mixed message about the chlorination tests they’ve been conducting at their Spring Creek Overflow Retention facility near Jamaica Bay. We did not receive reassuring evidence that chlorination at a CSO outfall is achievable without causing chlorine toxicity in the waterways. DEP engineers indicated that they will dechlorinate the overflow before it discharges into the waterways but acknowledged that they haven't been able to test the dechlorination aspect yet to see if it is possible to accomplish.
DEP reported that when the proposed long term control plans are completed ( in the year 2035) there will be less combined sewer system overflows but there will still be ~18 - 20 billion gallons of sewage overflow into the City’s waterways per year. While this is down from 27 billion gallons in recent years, it would still leave too many pathogens in some of our waterways too many times per year to make them safe enough for people to use them for recreational purposes or for fish and other wildlife to thrive.
People all over the City currently catch and eat fish in many of our waterways and use the local tributaries in their neighborhoods for recreational, cultural, and educational purposes. As more of our industrial waterfronts are redeveloped for residential housing, more and more people will spend time along the City’s coastline and come into contact with potentially contaminated waters.
DEP reported that to completely eliminate all combined sewer overflows would cost 30 billion dollars and they would have to increase water rates steeply in order to raise the funds. There are other options for raising the funds but they didn’t discuss them during the meeting. For notes about ways the City could equitably restructure the current water rates to help pay for stormwater management programs click here to see suggestions made in NRDC's blog post. SWIM will talk a lot about this topic in 2018.
The City’s CSO Long Term Control Plans are just that, they are meant to be anticipatory, and to be part of the City’s long term resilience planning. Do the plans go far enough? We left the meeting last week feeling that they do not. The Department of Environmental Protection has a monumental task in front of them in managing and improving the the wastewater system and capturing the overflow discharges and pollutants that enter our waterways each year.
While NYC DEP has made great progress since the 80’s when the combined sewer overflow volume was closer to 110 billion gallons, there is still more work to do. The CSO Long Term Control Plans present an opportunity for NYC to get it right now, while there is still time to prepare for the challenges that we know lie ahead.
SWIM Coalition will continue to amplify the concerns of our members in our dialogue with City officials and inform and empower community stakeholders with an understanding of the many nuances and complexities of the City’s water quality improvement plans and programs. Be sure to attend our quarterly public meetings and subscribe to our e-blasts for important updates.
Here’s how you can help now:
Click here to send a message to Mayor de Blasio and other key city and state officials, telling them to keep raw sewage out of NYC’s waterways.
Tell your family and friends to send a message, too: Click here to tweet a link to our action alert, and here to share on Facebook.
Get educated and stay involved. Check out the latest updates shared by our coalition, and sign up here for regular updates in your inbox. You can also subscribe to receive alerts when sewer overflows happen.
Curtail your water use during wet weather events: for instance; you can shorten the length of your shower and refrain from run the washing machine or dishwasher when it's raining outside
Below are a few highlights from the discussions that took place during the meeting: For a more detailed report click here
Proposed Chlorination of CSO Discharges:
There was a lengthy discussion about the City’s proposal to chlorinate sewage overflows before they are discharged into several local waterways. Citizens who use these waterways are very concerned about the potential negative impacts of such a practice and asked questions about a pilot program currently underway near Jamaica Bay.
According to DEP officials, the pilot is proving to be quite difficult to implement so they have not yet obtained enough data to confirm that the specific chlorination/dechlorination procedure they are proposing would yield the intended results and whether or not it would negatively impact local wildlife. DEP is in discussions about this with the NY State Department of Environmental Protection but we, the public, have not been privy to those discussions. The chlorination discussion left citizens with many unanswered questions and very concerned about the proposed chlorination plans!
As waterway stakeholders who spend time on our local tributaries, even if the pathogens have been chlorinated, swimming, fishing, and paddling in sewage strewn waterways is not the solution we have in mind for improving our waterways!
How much of a decrease in annual CSO volume will the plans yield when completed?
DEP officials acknowledged that after they implement of all of the City’s long term control plans (by 2035 at the earliest), 18 billion gallons of sewer overflow would still discharge into our waterways each year. While this is a decrease from the nearly 27 billion gallons per year of recent years, it still leaves many of our waterways unsafe for recreation.
So, after 40 years of working to make NYC waterways “fishable and swimmable” as required by federal law, and another 20 years of implementation ahead, many of our local waterways will remain unsafe for recreation. Disheartening to say the least.
The Green Infrastructure Plan Updates:
The GI plan is still in it’s early years of implementation. As the plan expands, the on land stormwater capture will help lessen the number and volume of sewer overflows that discharge into the City’s waterways but the plan has hit some bumps and GI is not being installed as rapidly or in as many places as the City initially intended.
DEP acknowledged that they’ve missed their first milestone for the program. DEP asserted that it is committed to the goals set forth in the plan and in the CSO Consent order.
There have been an array of challenges that have slowed the expansion of the program in the public right of way. Will DEP remain committed to their original goal of managing 1 inch of rainfall across 10 % of the impervious area in the combined sewer area of the City through Green Infrastructure by 2030? Read more about DEP's latest actions regarding green infrastructure.