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Stream protections pass the NYS Assembly

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stream protectionsMembers vote to protect NY’s waterways, drinking water sources and wildlife habitat


We’re thrilled to report progress for our waterways in Albany. Last Wednesday, with a bipartisan vote of 113 ayes to 31 nays, the NY Assembly voted to add 41,000 miles of Class C streams to the protected class of streams within the DEC’s Protection of Waters Program. Currently, the Protection of Waters Program protects streams in the Class C category that have trout populations or support trout spawning. The legislation to add all Class C streams regardless of the known presence of trout is championed by Assemblyman Sean Ryan and Senator Pete Harckham.

Last year, Riverkeeper led a team to pass the stream protection bill in the NY Senate 51-11, only to see it fail to come to a vote on the last day of the session in the Assembly. This year we got an early start with the NY Assembly and will offer the chance for many miles of streams to receive the basic protection they deserve. New York classifies its streams upon its “best usage” from AA, the highest quality streams which support multiple uses and often flow into drinking water supplies down to Class D, degraded streams that may not support fish propagation. Over the decades, through the Clean Water Act and New York State programs to improve water quality, many streams in the Class C category have undergone vast improvements in their water quality and potential to support wildlife habitat and additional human uses such as swimming, fishing and on-water recreation such as kayaking. However, as water quality improved or misclassifications were identified, many streams fell through the cracks and never received classification upgrades that would have qualified them for protection under the Protection of Waters Program. 

Many of streams and freshwater wetlands have been at risk since the Supreme Court gutted the Clean Water Act in the mid-2000s in two landmark cases, Rapanos v. United States and Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. Army Corps of Engineers. Now, New Yorkers have a chance to ensure the drinking water sources for some 11 million New Yorkers have the extra layer of protection that the 1972 Clean Water Act originally intended them to have. With the EPA and Army Corp of Engineers’ new rollbacks to the Clean Water Act through the dismantling of the Obama era Clean Water Rule, we have a whole new level of urgency. Specifically, New Yorkers likely can no longer count on the Army Corps of Engineers to require Clean Water Act Section 404 permit applications for activities that may modify or discharge fill material into a stream. Section 404 offered a base level of scrutiny of activities in regulated water bodies and wetlands. However, under the EPA’s and Army Corps of Engineers’ new “Dirty Water Rule”, that scrutiny is likely over. Our partner, Waterkeeper Alliance recently launched a new lawsuit seeking to stop the new rule from going into effect. 

If passed by the Senate and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, this legislation will ensure New York protects clean water from Long Island Sound to the shores of Lake Erie and everywhere in between. 

Now we turn our attention to the State Senate, which last year passed the bill 51-11, but has to take it up again this year before it goes to the Governor’s desk. Two weeks ago, the bill, S.5612-A was voted out of the Environmental Conservation Committee with 9 ayes to 2 nays sending it to the Finance Committee, it’s the final stop before reaching the Senate floor. We just received news that the bill popped up on the Senate Finance Committee agenda for next week. Then, if the members approve it, we will see the legislation head to the floor of the Senate where we will then need your help to ensure it is scheduled for a vote as soon as possible. We don’t have a minute to waste in protecting clean water and the health of New York’s streams.

**Update: S.5612-A is now on the Senate floor awaiting a vote**

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