Delays in City's Water Quality Improvement Plans
Updated: Oct 19, 2020
Over the past few months we've been hearing about requests for year/s-long extensions on significant aspects of some of the City's water quality improvement plans, such as the vitally important CSO Long Term Control Plans. Here is a link to a recent City Limits article on some of the delays.
In their most recent quarterly report on the CSO LTCP's, DEP noted that they'd asked for some extensions. Citing pandemic related budget concerns for the remainder of 2020 and anticipated reductions to their 2021 budget, the City is asking regulators to give them more time to meet the legal mandates for cleaning up our waterways by 2030. They estimate that the backlog of projects caused by the budget induced delays will continue through at least 2023 or 2024.
While we understand the pandemic's devastating impacts on our city and around the globe, we want to ensure that the public remains informed of NYC's decision-making process on plans that impact our waterways and neighborhoods. We are concerned that the City is having discussions with regulators that the public isn't aware of and want to make sure that we are all informed and part of the ongoing dialogue about the City's environmental resiliency plans.
SWIM sent a letter to DEP and DEC requesting a meeting so that we can better understand how the delays will impact the 2030 water quality goals and milestones that we have all worked hard on over the past decade! Here is a link to our letter. SWIM Coalition member, Riverkeeper, also sent a letter calling out additional concerns. We will meet with City and State officials throughout the remainder of this year regarding the program delays and keep our constituents informed. Be sure you are signed up for our monthly e-blast so you can receive our timely updates.
In addition to the projects listed below, it is our understanding the city's Green Infrastructure program for managing stormwater runoff (the root cause of CSO pollution in our waterways), which is already behind on 2 major milestones for 2015 and 2020, will also experience delays related to construction contracts.
So far, the projects that have been postponed are:
a vital CSO storage tunnel for Flushing Bay, which receives one of the highest amount of CSO overflows of any waterbody in the city, a waterway where a wide array of recreational activities such as Empire Dragon Boat racing and kayaking take place throughout the year. Here a link to DEP's letter to the State explaining their request for delay and the various impacts.
2 CSO storage tanks and filtration facility for the Gowanus Canal which are part of the federal superfund clean up underway for the canal, one of the most polluted waterways in the U.S. Here is a link to article about the delay on the tanks which were already going to take 12 years to complete!
This summer, citing pandemic related delays, NYC DEP asked for yet another extension on delivering the already 3-year delayed (pre budget cuts) East River/Open Waters CSO Long Term Control Plan to the State for their approval. The proposed plan was finally delivered to the State on September 30, 2020, here is a link to the full plan and here is a link to the executive summary. We are in the process of reviewing the plan right now and will provide an assessment of the proposed plan by the end of the year.
Stakeholders across the city were very disappointed with the draft Open Waters
plan that DEP presented to the public earlier this year. Here is a link to
stakeholder assessment of the proposed alternatives DEP presented to the
public on January 29, 2020. And here is a link to an excellent article, by
Nathan Kensinger in Curbed Magazine, about all of the waterways in the
Citywide plan that are impacted by CSO pollution.
NYC DEP has, so far, not been impacted by loss of staff due to budget cuts and their overall financial picture remains sound at this time, they do have a hiring freeze and some employees have been furloughed, and their 2021 budget will be at least 12-13% lower. We recognize the constraints that may lie ahead and commend DEP for the work they have done throughout the pandemic to keep us all safe and deliver clean drinking water into our homes while maintaining all the critical infrastructure that manages our wastewater. We also commend the agency's dedicated staff for their efforts to forge ahead on the water quality improvement programs in the face of the many challenges before them.
Stay tuned for updates on these projects and be sure to attend our quarterly public meetings to learn more. Our next public meeting is Oct 20th from 2-4p.m., you can register for the meeting by clicking here or pasting this url: https://bit.ly/34wsKYr into your browser.