NYC's Citywide/Open Waters CSO Plan Falls Short
Updated: Sep 29
At a January 29th public meeting in Long Island City, the NYC Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) presented its proposed plan for reducing the roughly 11 billion gallons of combined sewer overflow CSO pollution that discharge yearly into the Hudson, Harlem, and East Rivers, the western portion of Long Island Sound, Upper and Lower NY Bay, Kill van Kull, and the many important inlets and embayments that line these waters. After twice postponing this Citywide/Open Waters CSO Long Term Control Plan (LTCP), which impacts every borough of NYC, DEP's proposed plan, was met with a chorus of public outcry.
The recommended plan would only reduce CSO pollution in these waters by 2% to 4% over the next decade and includes only $42 million in new funds for CSO reduction. (in 2019 dollars). Under this plan, the waters would continue to fall short of EPA's health standards. The City and can and should do better.
City Council Members Brad Lander and Antonio Reynoso attended the public meeting at the request of their constituents and called on DEP
to develop a more robust plan that takes climate change projections for
our region into consideration and further reduces CSO pollution in our
open waters. Council member Lander recently posted another message via twitter about the City's flawed plan and this amazing article by Nathan Kensinger on Curbed.
Scroll to the bottom of this post for two important actions that you can take today!
Here are the details about the proposed plan:
The City's proposed plan would leave about 10.5 billion gallons of CSO in our open waters each year. For some waters covered by the plan, it proposes no CSO reductions whatsoever. In fact, it would achieve zero reductions at over 300 discharge locations, including many along the shoreline of major parks and water access points like Hudson River Park, Inwood Hill Park, Roberto Clemente State Park, Astoria Park, and Brooklyn Bridge Park and Snug Harbor.
NYC DEP's proposed "system optimization measures" only target a handful of outfalls in the East River, Hudson River and NY Bay. No CSO reductions are proposed for Kill van Kull. In the Harlem River, DEP is pursuing a stream daylighting project (for Tibbett's Brook in the Bronx) that would reduce 228 million gallons of the 1.9 billion gallons of CSO discharge it receives in a typical year. Because DEP considers the Tibbett's Brook project to be part of its "baseline" Green Infrastructure program, however, the estimated $63 million in costs would come from previously committed funds, so DEP is not treating it as part of the Open Waters LTCP. See our letter to DEP about the Tibbett's Brook project, which urges the city and state to ensure that the city's plan for that project is enforceable
Below are the CSO reductions DEP's proposed system optimization recommendations would achieve, by water body:
The East River and Long Island Sound receive 5.1 billion gallons per year of combined sewer overflow. The proposed system optimization measures would only reduce that by 86 million gallons per year, from 2 of the CSO 139 outfalls in these waters, at a cost of $6 million.
The Hudson receives 725 million gallons of CSO pollution per per year. The proposed plan would only reduce that by 7 million gallons each year, from 3 out of 52 outfalls, at a cost of $3 million.
Upper and lower New York Bay receive 3 billion gallons per year. The recommended plan proposes to reduce that by 148 million gallons per year, from 4 out of 30 outfalls, at a cost of $33 million.
Regarding water quality standards, the plan aims to meet modern bacteria standards only for Upper and Lower NY Bay and Long Island Sound, where the state has updated its standards.
Everywhere else, the plan still relies on outdated standards that do not protect public health. Earlier this year, the state actually proposed rolling back protective language for many NYC waters as a way to avoid updating the bacteria standards that apply to those waters. The city's proposed plan is hiding behind those weaker standards.
At the January 29th meeting, NYC Department of Environmental Protection and NY State Department of Environmental Conservation representatives did not provide meaningful answers to the concerns raised about:
the City and State using out of date water quality criteria to assess the current state of the waterways and set water quality targets for the CSO LTCP's;
basing the plans on backward looking climate and rainfall projections, misrepresenting the current state of the water- ways in the Citywide/Open Waters plan;
and only aiming for only 95% attainment results for waterways that surround every borough
The City can and should do better! With the federal government rolling back important protections for our waterways, it is critical that local governments take bold steps to protect and revitalize our fragmented and overburdened natural resources, fragile urban ecosystems, and vulnerable coastal communities.
For years, citizens across the city have called on NYC DEP to:
base the city’s CSO Long Term Control Plans on up-to-date water quality standards (which EPA has directed NY state to adopt);
develop the plans based on current climate projections for our region rather than 2008 rainfall data;
prioritize CSO reductions in locations in locations where recreational use is most impacted by sewage overflows;
produce integrated plans based on the EPA framework for municipal wastewater and stormwater management, that address municipal storm sewer and combined sewer pollution holistically
What citizens can do about the City's proposed plan:
Waterway stewards are calling on City and State officials to reconsider the proposed Citywide/Open Waters plan. We strongly recommend that the City and State abandon their current approach and put forward a real cleanup plan that dramatically reduces sewage pollution, prioritizes areas where people recreate in and alongside the water, meets federal health standards, is designed to handle increased rainfall from climate change, and is put into place as soon as possible.
We also recommend that each of the waterbodies with a CSO LTCP get an integrated plan based on the EPA framework for municipal wastewater and stormwater management so that a more holistic approach to cleaning up our waterways can get underway alongside the LTCP’s. The City Council has introduced important legislation calling for this approach. A hearing on the legislation will be held in the spring of 2020. Be sure to alert your city council member to support this bill.
You can send a comment letter to DEP by March 2nd to get your input on the public record. Here are two easy ways to do it:
1. For organizations: Here is a template you can adapt for your letter.
2. For individuals: Click here to send a message to DEP, the Mayor, the Governor, and the City Council Speaker letting them know you expect them to reject this plan and ensure that New York's waterways are safe and clean for all. Our voices matter! Call on the City and State to do better for all New Yorkers.