News > News > Water Quality > New York Assembly passes crucial legislation to protect state’s streams

New York Assembly passes crucial legislation to protect state’s streams


Contact: Jeremy Cherson, Riverkeeper Senior Manager of Government Affairs, [email protected], 770-630-6790

Advocates urge Governor Hochul to sign bill to shore up state protections after recent Supreme Court rollback of Clean Water Act

Ossining, NY (June 7, 2023) – Today, a coalition of prominent environmental organizations celebrates the passage of a critical bill to expand New York State’s protections for small streams, on the heels of a damaging Supreme Court decision that diminished the reach of the Clean Water Act, necessitating urgent action to safeguard our vital water resources.

With the passage of A4601-A/S1725-A in the New York Assembly following its passage in the New York Senate earlier this legislative session, the bill will move to Gov. Kathy Hochul for consideration. Sponsored by Environmental Conservation Committee Chairs Deborah Glick and Pete Harckham, the bill aims to give tens of thousands of miles of New York’s streams basic protections against damage from disturbance, recognizing that doing so protects wildlife habitat, makes watersheds more resilient to flooding and helps ensure that clean water flows downstream to drinking water supplies and beaches. The bill has garnered widespread support from the Assembly, the Senate and the public. This momentous achievement comes at a critical time when the recent Supreme Court decision has diminished the reach of the Clean Water Act, necessitating urgent action to safeguard our vital water resources.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Sackett v. EPA case, delivered in March 2023, has far-reaching implications for the Clean Water Act of 1972. As New York assesses the implications of this decision, it is evident that extended waterway protections, as outlined in A4601-A/S1725-A, are urgently needed to counter ongoing assaults on our environmental laws. Together with the expanded protections for wetlands approved by the Legislature and signed into law last year by Gov. Hochul, the stream protection bill would provide New Yorkers assurance that our waterways retain basic protections, despite this erosion of federal protections.

“We applaud the passage of this landmark legislation in both the State Senate and Assembly, which represents a significant victory for the protection of New York’s waterways,” said Jeremy Cherson, Senior Manager of Government Affairs for Riverkeeper. “This legislation is a testament to the work of thousands of residents who urged our lawmakers to prioritize the protection of our rivers, streams, and water resources. By establishing stronger safeguards, we are taking a crucial step towards ensuring clean and healthy water for generations to come, but only if Governor Hochul signs the legislation. Riverkeeper remains dedicated to working alongside our partners and our legislative sponsors to advocate for the Governor’s signature for these vital protections.”

“The only way we can be responsible stewards of our environment and natural resources is by tirelessly protecting our streams and waterways,” said Senate Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Pete Harckham. “This legislation commits us to this effort in order to maintain the quality of our drinking water while still permitting safe public access to waterways.”

“As climate change intensifies and the Supreme Court undermines the Clean Water Act, it is clear that we cannot depend on the federal government alone to protect our precious water resources. That is why I take great pride in sponsoring this legislation that stands up for clean water,” said Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chairwoman Deborah Glick. “With the new protections for streams and waterways that this bill offers, we are taking a crucial step in safeguarding New York’s most vital natural resource. In the face of mounting challenges, it is imperative that we prioritize the protection of our water, and this legislation serves that purpose.”

Rob Hayes, Director of Clean Water for Environmental Advocates NY, said, “We are grateful to Senator Harckham and Assemblymember Glick, as well as the Senate and Assembly majorities, for again passing this critical bill. This action comes at a time when a recent Supreme Court decision threatens the integrity of our nation’s wetlands, leaving our state’s waterways more vulnerable than ever. As climate change looms large, this legislation aligns perfectly with the principles of the $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Bond Act, which was overwhelmingly supported by the people of New York. We have confidence that the Governor will change course from last year’s veto and will sign this important water protection measure quickly.”

Roger Downs, Conservation Director for Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, said, “Headwater streams are the lifeblood of New York’s clean drinking water supply, and for decades thousands of linear miles of these capillaries have been improperly classified by the State of New York, and subsequently left unprotected. We applaud the Senate and Assembly for once again passing meaningful protections to these vulnerable streams. Governor Hochul has shown tremendous leadership in protecting New York’s wetlands in the wake of federal and judicial rollbacks of the Clean Water Act. But filling that gap cannot be complete without addressing the protection of headwater streams as well. We urge her to sign this essential legislation.”

David Ansel, Vice President of Water Protection for Save the Sound, said, “In light of the recent Supreme Court decision that significantly diminished the protective reach of the Clean Water Act, it is more essential than ever for states to strengthen their protections of all waters and wetlands. We are encouraged to see the legislature pass the Class C Streams bill, expanding the number of waterways protected in New York. We appreciate the hard work and commitment of the bill’s sponsors, Senator Pete Harckham and Assemblymember Deborah Glick, the chairs of the Environmental Conservation committees in their respective chambers, and everyone who made it a priority to pass this important piece of legislation before the end of the session.”

Brian Smith, Associate Executive Director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said, “We are grateful that the Senate and Assembly have passed this critical clean water legislation. Just as the Supreme Court acted to limit clean water protections, New York is stepping up.”

“Streams throughout New York State provide essential habitat for birds and other wildlife, clean drinking water, and a landscape that is resilient in the face of climate change. All classes of streams provide these critical ecosystem services, but tens of thousands of miles of Class C streams don’t receive protection from New York State,” said Erin McGrath, Senior Policy Manager for the National Audubon Society. “In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Sackett v. EPA, establishing these protections is more important than ever and this legislation needs to be enacted into law. We thank Senator Harckham and Assemblymember Glick for championing this bill, and urge the Governor to sign this important legislation into law.”

“Following the devastating decision from the Supreme Court to rollback federal Clean Water Act protections, New York’s Legislature has, once again, made the right call to pass legislation to better protect Class C streams. Clean water is the foundation of our health, our economy, and our environment. We know that it is far safer – and less expensive – to keep water clean at the source than to let it get polluted and then try to clean it for drinking. Clean water also supports the important outdoor recreation and agriculture industries in the state. New York state must act now on its own to protect all our water. In the face of a conservative Supreme Court acting in the interest of polluters over public health, Governor Hochul must step up to protect New Yorkers by signing this bill into law,” said Liz Moran, New York Policy Advocate for Earthjustice.

Pat McClellan, Director of Policy for the New York League of Conservation Voters, said, “The New York League of Conservation Voters commends the state legislature for passing the Class C Streams Act, an NYLCV priority bill that will help ensure the long-term health of fisheries and, critically, will shore up the state’s natural resilience against the impacts of climate change. We thank Senator Pete Harckham and Assemblymember Deborah Glick for sponsoring and advocating so strongly for this bill, and we also thank Senate Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie for their leadership and for prioritizing these vital and all-too-vulnerable natural resources.”

“The Nature Conservancy commends the New York State Senate and Assembly for passing legislation that expands protections for small streams. These important waterways provide wildlife habitat and help supply drinking water to New Yorkers throughout the state. Currently, more than half of New York streams have no state protection and are at risk from pollution, development, and invasive species. We appreciate the State Legislature’s leadership on this issue and urge Governor Hochul to expand stream protections by enacting this legislation,” said Jessica Ottney Mahar, The Nature Conservancy’s New York policy and strategy director.

“We applaud Senate and Assembly Leadership for protecting New York’s Streams,” said Kerrie Gallo, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper Deputy Executive Director. “In the wake of weakening federal regulations, it is more important than ever that New York asserts environmental leadership. Enhanced stream protections are critical to protect the integrity of Western New York ecosystems.”

Streams play an indispensable role in bolstering our ecological resilience in the face of climate change. They are not only essential for ensuring access to clean drinking water but also act as vital buffers against flooding risks and provide critical habitat for wildlife.

Presently, many public water systems across New York State rely on streams that lack adequate protections, potentially allowing regulated activities that harm water quality, flood control, and wildlife habitat. Furthermore, following the Supreme Court decision, numerous drinking water source streams are left vulnerable to degradation, including disturbances to stream banks that can significantly impact water quality and habitat.

In Peekskill alone, the water supply fed by streams outside the Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Protection of Waters Program serves over 100,900 individuals, while an additional 37,000 people in the City of Watervliet and Town of Guilderland depend on a reservoir fed by streams lacking adequate protections.

Beyond drinking water, these streams also serve as a crucial defense against severe flooding events by channeling some of the surge and reducing its velocity. Recent events like Hurricane Ida highlighted the devastating impact of flooding in New York State, resulting in property damage, road closures, and loss of life. As climate change intensifies storms, this legislation will be instrumental in securing New York’s future.

Moreover, New York’s streams provide essential habitats for fish and wildlife, support agricultural and industrial activities, and offer recreational opportunities.

Protecting this invaluable resource can wait no longer. It is crucial that Governor Hochul signs A4601-A/S1725-A into law, ensuring comprehensive protections for our streams and preserving New York’s natural heritage for generations to come.

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