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NYC Waterway Advocates Provide Testimony on NY State DEC Proposed Changes to Water Quality Standards

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

On Thursday, June 7th, 2018, the NYS DEC held a hearing to receive input from the public regarding their proposed changes to state water quality standards that impact waterbodies in NYC.

A packed room of paddlers, swimmers, teachers, scientists, environmental advocates, and community groups turned out to officially express concern for the State's proposals. Their sentiments were unanimous and reiterated time and again. The public is against the State's creation of new loopholes in existing water quality standards and the proposed changes falling short of the stronger standards that the EPA has required for all recreational waterways since 2012. See letter from EPA to DEC regarding adoption of the standards here.

Clean Waterway advocates from the following SWIM member organizations and supporters provided testimony at the hearing or sent in written testimony:

  • Save the Sound

  • National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

  • Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club

  • Riverkeeper

  • Gowanus Canal Conservancy

  • NYC Friends of Clearwater

  • NYC H20

  • Waterfront Alliance

  • Bronx River Alliance

Click here to view SWIM's public testimony and here to see those of our member organizations.

Although DEC’s proposed new standards are based on more reliable indicators, they would only apply to a limited set of waterways. That means many NYC waterbodies would still be subject to DEC’s old, scientifically indefensible standards. In addition, even the proposed new standards still fall short of the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended water quality criteria, which are designed to protect human health. DEC must do better!

New York State is one of the few remaining states in the nation that has not yet adopted the EPA’s 2012 Recreational Water Quality Criteria (RWQC). These nationally-applicable standards are based on Enterococcus spp., as opposed to the outdated use of fecal coliform-based testing methods. Enterococcus more accurately reflects primary contact recreation safety (compared to coliform and E. coli); is comparable across fresh, salt and brackish waters; and, perhaps most importantly, is a federally required minimum water quality criterion for waters like those in New York City that are polluted by Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) and stormwater runoff.

A sampling of the DEC’s proposed changes follows:

· Adopting a watered-down enterococcus standard, and applying it only to some waters: For certain “Class SA and SB” waters, the proposal would apply a new enterococcus standard, which is weaker than the federal enterococcus standard that EPA has determined is necessary protect human health. Further, although EPA has said the state must apply the federal enterococcus standard for all water bodies, the proposal does not change the state’s reliance on outdated, unprotective fecal coliform standards for most NYC water bodies.

· New loopholes allowing violations from November - April every year: For all water bodies, the proposal would create a major new exception to water quality standards, by requiring compliance with pathogen standards only during the “primary contact recreation season” (which is defined as May 1 to Oct 31, or “as determined by [DEC] on a case-specific basis”).

DEC’s full proposal, along with supporting materials are on the DEC’s website here.

SWIM Coalition will follow the State’s next steps on the proposal closely and continue to update our constituents as we learn more about the State’s intentions.

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