New Legislation Introduced Calling on the NYC Dept. of Environmental Protection to Rethink Its Flawed Sewer Overflow Plans

July 23, 2019

 

On June 26, 2019, NYC City Council Member Costa Constantinides, Chair of the City Council Committee for Environmental Protection, introduced an important legislative bill, Intro 1618. The proposed legislation addresses many of the public's concerns about the City's water quality improvement plans for our local waterways.

 

Waterway stewards and stakeholders have long advocated for a more comprehensive public engagement strategy, integrated water quality improvement plans (based on the EPA's  integrated planning model) that more holistically address all sources of pollution in our waterways, and greater reduction of sewer overflow events rather than disinfection with chlorine. 

 

The bill calls for the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner to prepare a series of specific reports and studies on each of the waterbodies that have a Combined Sewer Overflow Long Term Control Plan (CSO LTCP). The DEP Commissioner would have to review the reports quarterly with a stakeholder advisory committee comprising representatives from each Borough President’s office and a wide array of NYC-based organizations. The bill also calls for DEP to make the reports available to the public annually for review and formal comment.

 

Additionally, Intro 1618 calls for one yearly report that outlines the current conditions in each waterbody (with a CSO LTCP) with respect to the presence of contaminants from combined sewer overflows, frequencies and volumes of discharges from each of the City’s CSO outfall points during the preceding year, and the proportional impact of the discharges on environmental justice communities.​

 

Intro 1618 requires NYC DEP to develop integrated watershed management plans for each of the waterbodies getting a CSO LTCP. Integrated watershed management plans define and address water quality problems from both point sources and non-point sources of pollutants.  The current CSO LTCPs evaluate only point source discharges from CSOs.  SWIM Coalition and our partners have long advocated for more impactful planning that reduces CSO discharges and addresses stormwater from the NYC Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) holistically.

 

Other studies called for in the legislation include inventorying all of the potential green infrastructure opportunities on public and private property in each LTCP watershed, as well as a study on the effectiveness and potential adverse impacts of disinfection of combined sewer overflows with chlorine.

 

Below are some documents that summarize stakeholder concerns about the City's proposed CSO Long Term Control Plans:

 

Here is a 2018 letter from City Council members across the City to Mayor De Blasio with a cc to the DEP Commissioner requesting that the "Council, and their constituents, be better integrated into the LTCP implementation process." 

 

Here is a link to SWIM’s principles for Clean Waterways in NYC that were endorsed by waterway stewards and stakeholders from across the city in 2017 and sent to NYC DEP and NY DEC as a guide for what the public should expect from the City's water quality planning processes. 

 

Here is a link to a fact sheet about the City's current CSO Long Term Control Plans that SWIM circulated in 2017 when the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) suddenly, without notifying the public or holding a public hearing, approved all of the City's proposed plans before they’d been revised to address the public comments and concerns. The fact sheet lists flaws in the proposed, and now approved, CSO LTCP's that need to be addressed as the plans move forward.

 

 As noted in the City Council letter and our fact sheet mentioned above, stakeholders citywide have concerns about the proposed use of  disinfection with chlorine in several of the CSO LTCP's. Here is a link to a recent white paper published by several professors at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Queens College, City University of New York, Flushing Queens, on why chlorination is not effective and can cause ecosystem disruption. 

 

We thank Council Member Constantinides and the bill's co-sponsor, City Council Member Peter Koo, for their efforts to ensure that the City's water quality improvement plans meet PlaNYC's equity and environmental goals and that our waterways meet federal health standards for safe contact! 

 

Next steps on the proposed bill are to have a public hearing in the fall of 2019. SWIM will follow the progress of the bill and report on it here on our blog and in our monthly e-blasts. You can sign up for our e-blasts here

 

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SWIM Coalition is sponsored by the NYC Soil & Water Conservation District and Riverkeeper, Inc. Your donations to SWIM's work are tax deductible under the IRS code170(c)3. 


Donations to SWIM are managed by Riverkeeper, Inc.