News > News > Safeguard Drinking Water > Riverkeeper Applauds Increased Funding for Land Acquisition, Flood Protection, but Identifies Key Omissions in Department of Health’s Revised Filtration Avoidance Determination

Riverkeeper Applauds Increased Funding for Land Acquisition, Flood Protection, but Identifies Key Omissions in Department of Health’s Revised Filtration Avoidance Determination


Contact: Tina Posterli, 914-478-4501 x 239, [email protected]

Calls on DOH to address turbid discharges to Lower Esopus Creek

White Plains, NY, November 19, 2013 – In submitting comments on the Department of Health’s (DOH) draft revisions to the 2007 Filtration Avoidance Determination (FAD) for New York City (NYC) drinking water, Riverkeeper recognizes significant improvements while calling for DOH to address several major deficiencies, including the need to evaluate alternatives to the Catskill turbidity control program.

“In general, the FAD programs that DOH is responsible for overseeing have grown stronger and more protective of water quality,” said Riverkeeper Watershed Program Director Kate Hudson. “Yet by choosing to almost completely ignore two key problems: the turbid discharges to the Lower Esopus and the potential devastating impacts of hydraulic fracturing, DOH endangers both water quality and the future of the upstate communities affected by NYC’s water supply operations.”

The Watershed Inspector General (WIG) of the New York State Attorney General’s Office has submitted comments echoing Riverkeeper’s concerns that New York City’s releases of highly turbid water to the Lower Esopus Creek have caused violations of water quality standards that are likely to recur. The WIG’s recommendation that DOH convene an expert panel in consultation with EPA to study alternatives to turbidity control that do not impact the Creek mirrors a similar request for an independent expert review of alternatives made by Riverkeeper.

DOH’s draft revisions to the FAD for NYC drinking water would improve upon the 2007 FAD in a number of important areas. As proposed, DOH’s revisions would increase DEP’s land acquisition program by $50 million, dedicate $15 million to fund DEP’s own flood buyout program, and allow DEP to draw on its land acquisition funds if supplemental resources are needed to buy properties affected by recent intense storms, Irene and Lee.

The draft revisions would also bolster a number of other successful programs, enhancing the Stream Management Program by $10.5 million and the Local Flood Hazard Mitigation program by $10.1 million, which will protect Watershed communities and reduce pollution risks in the water supply.

However, DOH largely ignores, and has removed earlier draft requirements to address, the ecological and economic impacts that releases of turbid, muddy water from NYC’s Ashokan Reservoir to the Lower Esopus Creek have had over the past three years. These releases are mandated by the FAD in order to reduce turbidity in the water supply, affording DOH the opportunity, authority, and responsibility to address these issues. In its comments, Riverkeeper calls on DOH to remedy this deficiency by requiring DEP to fund an independent expert review of alternatives to Lower Esopus discharges, so DEP and Lower Esopus communities can finally identify and pursue a long-term solution. Riverkeeper also urges DOH to impose its own strict release interim operating rules, to ensure that reservoir releases do not continue to cause violations of state water quality standards while the expert panel examines alternatives.

DOH also paid only lip service to preparing for the potential for hydraulic fracturing in close proximity to NYC’s delicate watersheds and water supply infrastructure. NYC has publicly stated that state’s proposed regulations would put the NYC water supply at risk. A contingency plan needs to be developed in case the state decides to move forward with permitting of high volume fracturing.

About the Filtration Avoidance Determination
The Catskill/Delaware portions of the NYC Watershed provide pristine drinking water to nine million New Yorkers – almost half the state’s population. This Watershed is one of only five urban systems in America that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has granted a filtration avoidance determination under the Safe Drinking Water Act because of its high quality source water. When drinking water is obtained from surface waters (such as rivers), it is generally “filtered” to remove contaminants. Water obtained from the NYC Watershed is not filtered. Rather, the water is disinfected and distributed by a system of aqueducts, tunnels and pipes to consumers in NYC and upstate communities. Avoiding filtration both allows the City to maintain extraordinarily high quality water and saves the City billions of dollars in capital expenditures and millions of dollars in operations and maintenance costs each year.

About Riverkeeper
Riverkeeper is a member-supported, watchdog organization whose mission includes safeguarding the environmental, recreational and commercial integrity of the Watershed that provides drinking water to nine million New York City (NYC) and Hudson Valley residents. Riverkeeper is actively involved in advocacy and public education surrounding the issue of shale gas extraction via HVHF (also referred to as fracking), in particular because of its potential impacts on New York’s water supply.

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