Blogs > Water Quality > Testimony: Riverkeeper calls on NYC Council to strengthen stormwater enforcement bill

Testimony: Riverkeeper calls on NYC Council to strengthen stormwater enforcement bill

Proposed city law seeks to give the Department of Environmental Protection certain Clean Water Act enforcement powers for separate storm sewer system activities.

Riverkeeper is calling on New York City to broaden and strengthen a bill that creates sweeping new authority for city enforcement against stormwater pollution.

On Tuesday, the New York City Council Committee on Environmental Protection held a public hearing on the bill, INT 1346, relating to water pollution control and stormwater management.

This bill was created, in part, because NYC must comply with a permit issued to it by New York State in August 2015 for protecting water quality in the city’s “Separate Storm Sewer System” (or, “MS4”) areas – the approximately 40 percent of the City where stormwater from streets, lots, facilities, roofs, and buildings flow into drains that directly discharge into local waterways.

This bill, as written, solely applies to these “MS4” (or separate sewer) parts of the City. This, indeed, was one of Riverkeeper’s main suggestions for the City Council to consider – the bill creates new programs and policies, new authorities, and calls for robust oversight and enforcement of the Clean Water Act by the City DEP … but only in part of the City. Riverkeeper asked that this bill apply to the entire New York City watershed – across all five boroughs.

In brief, this bill would result in two key changes to New York City’s Charter and its Administrative Code – again, only for 40 percent of the City:

First, the bill proposes changes to the NYC Charter that generally declare the City’s support for clean water and pollution elimination, and grants the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) the authority to enforce these clean water goals.

Specifically, the DEP Commissioner will have the power to:

• Administer and enforce provisions of law, rules and regulations relating to the management and control of discharges and runoff from public and private property, including but not limited to stormwater discharges;

• Regulate and control discharges into water within and about the City of New York of harmful or objectionable substances, contaminants and pollutants that may have an adverse impact on waters of the state;

• Enforce all laws, rules and regulations related to stormwater discharges; and

• Coordinate work done by all other city agencies (e.g., the NYC DOT, or the Parks Department) in furthering stormwater management and compliance with the city’s new MS4 Permit.

Second, the bill lays out a series of programs, permits, and enforcement actions that the DEP would be in charge of overseeing. For example, the DEP will now be able to give enforcement orders, issue permits for stormwater control during and after construction activities, and require minimum standards of “best management practices” for sites.

In effect, for industrial and commercial facilities, for new construction projects, and for stormwater polluters discharging contaminants into streets and sewers illegally, in NYC’s MS4 areas (40 percent of New York City), the DEP will now be in charge of regulating, managing, and enforcing clean water protections. As noted above, Riverkeeper’s testimony highlighted the need to broaden this new authority to the rest of the City’s sewersheds:

“Riverkeeper asks that the City Council broaden the bill to include the combined storm sewer system. As drafted, this laudable bill only protects around 40% of City waterways (and thereby, only partly addresses public health, economic, and ecosystem function impacts caused by water pollution). All residents and all waterways deserve an agency with the authority to protect, enforce, and oversee clean water compliance.”

Riverkeeper also called for clear and unwavering support by the Council for expanded DEP workload:

“For years – at city, state, and federal agencies – declining environmental budgets have led to shrinking staffs and diminishing capacities. Enforcement and oversight, in the case of pollution from sources such as industrial facilities or construction sites, can be staff-intensive activities and are often the first budgets to be cut. Riverkeeper asks, when it considers the City budget, that the Council give the DEP the tools it needs to fully build this program, walk the City’s development projects through these new permit systems, and help immediately bring the City’s industrial and commercial operators into compliance with the law.”

Several Riverkeeper partners also testified at the hearing – including the SWIM Coalition, NRDC, Newtown Creek Alliance, Waterfront Alliance, North Shore Waterfront Conservancy of Staten Island, and many others.

The Chair of the Environmental Protection Committee, Costa Constantinides, the co-sponsor of the bill, Council Member Donovan Richards, as well as Council Members Levin, Ulrich, and Lancman were in attendance at the hearing. Questions by the Council Members focused on the need for robust enforcement by the DEP, the need for a holistic look at our stormwater management programs across the City, and whether the DEP had the staff it needed to execute these new programs.

Stay tuned for updates on this legislation, and for more ways you can help participate in the development of DEP’s Stormwater Management Plan for MS4 Areas.

Read the bill: Int. No. 1346

Read Riverkeeper’s testimony.

Read testimony from the SWIM Coalition.

Tell Gov. Hochul to block invasive species at the Erie and Champlain canals
Become a Member