News > News > Safeguard Drinking Water > Riverkeeper sues NYS to prevent withdrawal of regulations protecting NYC water quality

Riverkeeper sues NYS to prevent withdrawal of regulations protecting NYC water quality

NYS is attempting to walk back protections for water recreation that were established in 2015.

ALBANY, NY — Riverkeeper, represented by the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, filed suit late yesterday to prevent the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation from attempting to roll back human health protections for recreation in New York City’s waterways, initially established by regulation in 2015.

The 2015 water quality standards for swimming and other “primary contact recreation” would require the state to set scientifically accurate sewage pollution limits for the City’s waterways. To meet these limits, New York City would have to improve its sewage treatment infrastructure to prevent most raw sewage discharges.

In an attempt to sidestep its responsibility, New York State claims it never intended to set protections for “Class SD” and “Class I” waters, despite insisting repeatedly that these waters shall be suitable for recreational purposes. The Class SD and I waterbodies include a portion of the Hudson River at Manhattan; Harlem, Bronx and East Rivers; Newtown Creek; Gowanus Canal; Flushing Bay; and others, many of which receive billions of gallons of raw sewage and stormwater discharges each year.

The existing recreational “use designation” for Class SD and I waters would require New York City to develop a long-term plan of various sewage capture and treatment measures to set it on a path to compliance with the Clean Water Act in the coming decades. Or, if compliance were found impossible, the state could undertake a public process called a “Use Attainability Analysis” to prove each waterbody could never be safe for swimming, which would require review by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. As it stands, not a single one of the city’s existing long term plans would comply with the Clean Water Act, even when completed, and no Use Attainability Analysis has been performed for any of the waterways.

“The State Department of Environmental Conservation would have us believe it never intended to establish protections for recreation in New York City’s waters, despite multiple prior assurances that it had. That’s ludicrous,” said Hudson Riverkeeper Paul Gallay. “It’s time for the state to stop playing shell games to avoid its duty to protect our waters. Let’s get to work to ensure New York City complies with the Clean Water Act to make its waters fishable and swimmable within our lifetimes.”

Read the filing.

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