2011-04-15 / Top Stories

Safeguard Water

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) have announced a new 15-year Water Supply Permit for New York City that continues the successful Land Acquisition Program in the New York City Watershed, which provides safe drinking water to more than nine million New Yorkers, including one million upstate residents in Ulster, Orange, Putnam and Westchester counties. The agreement provides more than $100 million in funding toward an array of programs to limit water pollution. Agreement was also achieved on a number of taxation assessment and hamlet growth areas to assist with the economic health of the watershed towns. Last year, roughly 12,000 acres (some 18.75 square miles) were protected by the New York City DEP and its partner, the Watershed Agricultural Council, making 2010 the most successful year since the inception of the Land Acquisition Program in 1997. Since the start of the program, New York City has protected more than 116,000 acres of watershed land that supplies more than one billion gallons of drinking water to New York City and upstate residents each day. Prior to the start of the land acquisition program in 1997, the City owned 44,600 acres surrounding its reservoirs. The new permit will allow New York City to continue to acquire undeveloped, environmentally sensitive lands that are important to the long-term protection of the watershed from willing sellers at fair market value. New York State owns and protects over 200,000 acres of watershed lands. This action updates the 1997 Water Supply Permit issued by DEC, when the Memorandum of Agreement was signed by New York City, New York State, EPA, environmental groups, and 77 counties and municipalities in the watershed. The new Water Supply Permit includes the core provisions of the original 1997 permit. In addition to the city’s purchase of land, the Watershed Agricultural Council will continue to purchase conservation easements on farms. To date, more than 71,000 acres of watershed lands have been opened for such activities as hunting, fishing, hiking and trapping. New York City pays taxes on all lands and easements acquired. The Land Acquisition Program has been a fundamental component of New York City’s ability to secure and maintain the Filtration Avoidance Determination, last issued in 2007 by the EPA and now overseen by the New York State Department of Health, which saves New York City at least $10 billion in filtration plant construction costs alone.

The new permit also reflects agreements reached by a large stakeholder group regarding a number of important refinements to the Land Acquisition Program to focus acquisition on properties that contain wetlands, water courses, steep slopes and other land features important to the protection of water quality. Communities west of the Hudson River were given the opportunity to modestly expand their existing hamlet areas to limit New York City’s acquisition of land in areas that towns deem essential for future economic growth. Other program refinements include provisions for pilot riparian buffer acquisitions, which allows New York City or a partner land trust to purchase small corridors of land along sensitive streams or rivers that feed upstate reservoirs; and an enhanced land trust program to support efforts to buy special properties in the watershed. In addition, as part of the agreement, the city and the west of Hudson watershed communities have reached agreement on a program to resolve and avoid tax assessment lawsuits associated with the valuation of the City’s wastewater treatment plants, reservoirs, dams, and other city-owned infrastructure. This agreement will help ensure that New York City facilities are taxed appropriately and minimizes the potential for future disagreements over assessments, removing a major obstacle to partnership efforts.

The agreement also includes more than $100 million in additional funding commitments to extend or ex-pand protection programs to limit farm runoff, repair residential and commercial septic systems, and assist with stormwater retrofits to preserve water quality by reducing polluted runoff. Funding includes:

Septic Remediation and Replacement: An estimated $44 million for the remediation and replacement of a minimum of 300 septic systems annually.

Small Business and Cluster System Program: $4 million to fund repair or replacement of commercial septics for small businesses; $2 million to identify and install wastewater treatment and disposal systems for small groupings of residences.

Polluted Runoff: Up to $15.5 million in new funding to improve water quality by reducing phosphorus runoff into reservoirs located in Putnam and Westchester counties.

Septic Maintenance: $1.5 million to provide 50 percent matching funds to pump out residential septic systems.

Watershed Agricultural Program: $32 million to install water quality best management practices on farms throughout the watershed.

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