• Elisia Langdon

Calling all those who play in New York City’s waterways!

Updated: Oct 28

Did you know that you can help to impact policy through your use and enjoyment of New York’s waterways? The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is currently planning to undergo a reclassification of all saline water bodies surrounding New York City and is seeking public data to gain an understanding of how and where our waterways are being used. This data will be used by advocates to build the case for increasing water quality standards wherever water is being enjoyed by people. Data must be submitted by the extended deadline of November 6, 2022 at 11:59pm. More information about specific questions being asked can be found on the State’s Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule Making page here.


Document your recreational water uses here and show the state why we need clean water!

Submitting water use data is simple. Thanks to our partners at Riverkeeper, Save the Sound and Pratt SAVI, there is now a live interactive map where you can easily chart your water use locations and routes. Join your fellow New Yorkers who have already added their activity to this map - data from as far back as 1975 will be accepted!


If you have already mapped a route on another platform such as Strava and would like to submit your data directly to the State, you may send any documentation by mail to the below address or by email to WQSrulemakings@dec.ny.gov.


New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

625 Broadway, 4th Floor

Albany, NY 12233-3500

ATTN: Michelle Tompkins


Submissions may be as simple as a map with marked use points, route lines and a brief description of the type of activity (kayaking, swimming, fishing) and how many people participated. For example, a screenshot of an activity tracking app with all of this information is great!


Kayaking in Jamaica Bay, photo by Elisia Langdon

Background


What are Water Quality Standards and Classifications?


Water Quality Standards (WQS) are the foundation of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA). They are used to benchmark, assess and monitor water quality and further serve as the regulatory targets for permitting, compliance and enforcement.


To comply with the Clean Water Act, which set a goal that all waters be “fishable and swimmable,” water bodies are classified based on their “best use” (e.g., fishing, primary contact recreation, etc.) and numeric or narrative criteria are set to protect those uses. All waters in New York State are assigned a letter classification that denotes their best uses. For more information on New York City waterways particularly at risk, take a look at the factsheet linked here.


Why Submitting Your Data to the State Matters


Use classifications form the basis for setting waterbody pollution limits that must be sufficiently protective of those uses, including recreational use. In general, once it is set, the State may relax the designated use for a certain waterbody only if the use is unattainable or would result in “substantial and widespread economic and social hardship”. Recreational use categories are divided into two groups:

  • Primary contact recreation: includes swimming, bathing, surfing, or similar water contact activities where ingestion of the water is probable

  • Secondary contact recreation: includes boating, fishing, or similar activities in or on the water where the potential for immersion or ingestion of water is low and where ingestion of the water is not probable.


The DEC will consider information from the public on all existing uses in the state’s waterways. However, since primary contact recreation requires the most stringent water quality standards, primary contact recreation data is particularly important for increasing water quality.


Local Waterways That Would Be Impacted by Changes to “Best Use” Classifications:


What are Water Quality Standards and Classifications? e including all those wlley Creek & Little Neck Bay, Arthur Kill and Kill van Kull, Bronx River (tidal portion), Coney Island Creek, East River, Flushing Bay and Creek, Gowanus Canal, Harlem River, Hudson River (south of the Bronx), Jamaica Bay Tribs, Newtown Creek & Tribs, and Westchester Creek


All New Yorkers and especially water users in these areas will be impacted by the proposed changes to waterbody classifications and water quality criteria.


Suggested Data to Submit


If you are unsure of what information is relevant, see the below list of information that would be useful to provide but is by no means an exhaustive list of possible submissions:

  • Photos of uses, coupled with estimated date/time and specific location of use;

  • Narrative descriptions of personal or witnessed uses with locations and timeframes (e.g. only certain months of the year);

  • Evidence of primary contact recreation events (e.g., NYC Triathlon; Manhattan swimming circumnavigation);

  • Evidence of access points for these uses (maps, photos, etc.);

  • Evidence of waters used from these access points;

  • Waterfront access points or locations that recreators would use if access, water quality, or another factor were improved;

  • Water quality data indicating that primary contact uses would be possible. Fecal indicator bacteria and dissolved oxygen measurements are especially important.


For more information you can access the DEC map of waterbody classifications here and read more about what our partners at Riverkeeper are doing from a legal standpoint on the latest Riverkeeper blog post on the topic here.


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