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Advocates Fill Every Seat at NYC City Council Public Hearing on DEP's Sewer Overflow Plans

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

SWIM, Trust for Public Land, NRDC & Riverkeeper Delivering Our Testimony

Every seat on the floor of the City City Council chambers was filled on Wednesday, people even had to sit in the balcony!

Waterway advocates from around the City came out in large numbers on the coldest day of the year to publicly declare that the City’s plans to address combined sewer overflow in our waterways will not make our waterways safe for recreational activities, that the water quality standards the City’s plans are based on are out of date and not scientifically defensible and will not protect public health, and the proposed band aid solutions of chlorination and diversion of sewage to other water bodies rather than capturing combined sewer overflow volume are unacceptable.

The City Council Committee for Environmental Protection Co Chair Donovan Richards and other City Council members in support of the calls from waterway advocates in their districts (Peter Koo, Stephen Levin, Ritchie Torres, Andrew Cohen) called on the NYC Department of Environmental Protection to engage with the public on the proposed CSO Long Term control Plans before they are sent to the State and to think more strategically about ways the City can comply with the Clean Water Act mandate which requires that New York ensure our waters are safe for recreation and meet fishable, swimmable water quality standards.

SWIM Coalition members and partners spent most of their day in the chilly City Council Chambers waiting patiently to deliver oral testimony on behalf of their local waterways and communities. Some of their written testimonies can be found here.

SWIM’s steering committee chair, Jaime Stein delivered our testimony alongside representatives of the Trust for Public Land ( former Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner, Carter Strickland), Natural Resources Defense Council (Senior Attorney, Lawrence Levine), and Riverkeeper ( Senior Attorney, Sean Dixon).

Lawrence Levine from the Natural Resources Defense Council has posted a comprehensive blog entry on the entire day’s proceedings on the NRDC website here. And the magazines Politico and City Limits both published articles about the hearing. We heard that WNYC was in the house recording the proceedings but we haven’t seen anything posted on their site yet.

You can view the entire hearing proceedings here.

It was a proud day for SWIM Coalition and waterway advocates from the around the City. Our voices were heard and our spirits were lifted by the pointed and extremely well informed questions posed to DEP by the City Council members during the hearing and by the eloquent testimonies of our members and allies in the room. Especially poignant was the testimony of two school groups ( 5th graders from P.S. 15 in Red Hook and students from the Harbor School) which won the hearts of everyone in the room, including Council Member Donovan Richards who presided over the hearing, and stated, “I hope DEP is listening....I also want to recommend that DEP hires some of these individuals.”

Thank you to everyone who joined us on Wednesday!! One representative of the Guardians of Flushing Bay and the Empire Dragon Boaters summed up the feeling in the room when she stated that the day represented the true meaning of the words emblazoned on the ceiling of the City Council Chambers: Government of the People, for the People, by the People!

Our voices were indeed heard and some changes and adjustments that we’ve asked for will happen right away as the remaining CSO Long Term Control Plans move forward in 2018! Other concerns we’ve raised will require more advocacy work in the years ahead and we will continue to call on our Coalition members to reach out to their elected officials for help in turning the tide toward cleaner waterways throughout NYC.

We are especially grateful to the City Council Committee for Environmental Protection Chair, Costa Constantinides, and Co Chair, Donovan Richards, and their amazing staff for their efforts in organizing the hearing and spending countless hours of their busy days meeting with SWIM Coalition delegates multiple times over the past few years. They are indeed true heroes of our waterways and we can’t thank them enough for heeding our call for the City to do better on their plans to improve our local waterways.

The time is now to reach out to all elected officials and stakeholders in our districts to alert them to the impacts of the City’s proposed plans to address stormwater runoff and combined sewer overflows in their communities. SWIM has a series of fact sheets (for each waterway whose long term control plan has been approved by the state) on our website which outline the key concerns for each waterway and a list local officials (on the back of the fact sheets) and how to reach them. We also have dedicated pages on our website explaining the key concerns that officials and stakeholders need to understand as the City’s plans get implemented in the years ahead. Most of the plans will literally take decades to complete!

Here is a link to an email that you can send to the Mayor and several other key City officials letting them know you want the City to get raw sewage out of our waterways!

We’ve all got our work cut out for us and will need to remain steadfast in our advocacy efforts in the years ahead and continue to respectfully hold the City’s feet to the fire as NYC DEP’s long term plans for the combined sewer and municipal separate storm sewer systems move forward.

Be sure to join us at SWIM’s quarterly public meetings to stay informed on our progress and to learn more about what you can do to help! There are many simple things that each of us can do to lessen the volume of the City’s wastewater and stormwater overflows that discharge into and pollute our waterways when it rains. Check here for a few tips and here to sign up for our bi-monthly eblasts.

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