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NY State DEC Proposes Rollback of Important Protections for NYC Waters Waterway Stewards Oppose!

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is proposing to remove protections for primary contact recreation in many of NYC’s waterways. That’s right. After making some progress toward stronger water quality standards over the last four years, DEC is now trying to backtrack rather than finish the job.

In late October 2019, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued a public notice proposing the removal of vitally important language used in the classification of SD and Class I waters in New York City. Class I and SD waters are meant to “support aquatic life and recreation, and shall be suitable for primary and secondary contact recreation, although other factors may limit the use for these purposes.” The waters that fall under this classification in NYC are:

  • Hudson River (south of the Bronx)

  • Harlem River

  • Bronx River (tidal portion)

  • East River

  • Flushing Bay

  • Newtown Creek

  • Gowanus Canal

  • Coney Island Creek

  • Jamaica Bay tributaries

  • Kill van Kull, and Arthur Kill

The state is proposing to remove the "primary contact use" language entirely for these waters. If DEC succeeds, it could this would leave the outdated, decades-old bacteria standards in place -- which could significantly set back efforts to strengthen the City’s sewage cleanup plans!

Waterway Stewards are voicing their opposition to the proposed rule change! Here is a link to SWIM's public testimony.

Below is some background information about this topic and information about an upcoming public comment period. SWIM and our members testified at the January 8th public hearing.


In 2015, DEC changed its rules to declare that “water quality shall be suitable for primary contact recreation” in all of NYC’s coastal waterways that didn’t previously have this protection (see full list above, which ranges across all 5 boroughs). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved this change, which would help drive stronger sewage cleanup plans around the city. EPA also directed the state to update the accompanying bacteria limits (from fecal to enterrococcus) to make sure they protect public health. See our testimony on this in 2015 here.

Incredibly, the state is now trying to flout EPA’s directive, by removing the primary contact use entirely from these waters so as not to update the bacteria limits!! We will post our public testimony and that of our members on SWIM's testimonies library in mid-January here.

Public Comment Information:

Written Comments

The comment period will close on January 13, 2020.

Email: (Include "Comments on I SD Clarifying Rule" in the subject line of the email)


Mail: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 625 Broadway, 4th Floor Albany, NY 12233-3500, ATTN: Michelle Tompkins

Questions and Additional Information

Further information, including copies of rule making documents, are available upon request by contacting:

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 625 Broadway, 4th Floor Albany, NY 12233-3500, ATTN: Michelle Tompkins Phone: (518) 402-8179 Email:

Image Credit: City Limits, 2015. Dragon Boaters on Flushing Bay

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