Riverkeeper, Ulster County want state to lead environmental review of NYC watershed plan
OLIVE, N.Y. — Ulster County and Riverkeeper are asking the state to strip the New York City Department of Environmental Protection of lead agency status for environmental review of the city’s proposed revisions of its long-term watershed plan.
The county and environmental organization say the city has discredited itself by failing to include in the plan significant impacts on the Lower Esopus Creek.
Riverkeeper attorney Kate Hudson said the state Department of Environmental Conservation is better-suited to consider the harm that releases of highly turbid water have on both the 32-mile long Lower Esopus Creek and the Hudson River.
“We keep hoping that the (Department of Environmental Conservation) is going to initiate sooner, rather than later, a permit modification that is going to address the releases in a (state pollution discharge) permit,” she said.
The city watershed plan, which is required under a filtration avoidance permit, is one of three related actions that involve potential State Environmental Quality Review actions involving the city water system.
The others are the filtration avoidance permit itself and a permit for use of alum to settle turbid water sent to the Kensico Reservoir from the Ashokan Reservoir via the Catskill Aqueduct.
Filtration avoidance is a waiver granted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allowing the city to provide surface water to users without creating an expensive system to filter out pollutants.
“One of the things that is common among all three of those actions is releases to the Lower Esopus,” Hudson said.
In past reports, the city claimed to minimize alum use because the state “believes that deposition of sediments on the reservoir bottom my affect biota and fish populations.” Those reasons are left out of the section of the long-term plan addressing the need to reduce alum use.
Hudson said a working group that periodically meets privately with city representatives has been unable to win a commitment by the city to make water releases a significant factor in the city’s long-term plan. Continued...
Ulster County officials say either the state Department of Environmental Conservation or state Department of Health should take the lead agency role for environmental reivew because the city is ignoring the effects of watershed management outside the watershed.
“Someone else has to be the watchdog here,” County Attorney Bea Havranek said.
Havranek said effects not addressed in the city long-term plan include damage to Wawarsing properties, flood impacts from all city reservoirs, and turbidity in the Lower Esopus Creek.
“We’re not comfortable the city of New York is capable of fully flushing out all those issues so that there is enough public participation, there is enough review, and somebody is watching over them and asking the right questions,” Havranek said. “The process needs to be controlled by some other entity that is more independent and has some enforcement powers.”
City spokesman Farrell Sklerov said the city Department of Environmental Protection should continue to be lead agency for environmental review of its projects because it “has served as the lead agency...since the early 1990s. It is standard practice for agencies to take the lead on the reviews of their own programs and we see no reason why that should now change.” The city agency, he said, “has the expertise, depth of knowledge of our watershed protection programs, and a strong record of ensuring a robust and transparent process.”
Ulster County Planning Director Dennis Doyle contends the proposed long-term plan is being used in part to confuse issues - one being handling of the watershed and the other is the city filtration avoidance determination - that should be clearly separated.
“It seems to be that the long-term plan is required as part of the 2007 (filtraton avoidance determination) that runs through 2016,” he said. “It would seem that what New York City has said is ‘what we’re doing is just fine and that’s what we should continue to do for the next five years.’”
Doyle said the absence of references to the Lower Esopus Creek in the long-term plan is an example of how city officials simply avoid topics they do not want to deal with.
“There has been a pretty steady drumbeat that’s come from the county that says, when you look at the map of New York City’s associated areas of concern, that it doesn’t extend beyond the spillway in the reservoir,” he said.
Doyle said there is some concern the state Department of Health officials won’t address the Lower Esopus impacts because the agency has previously supported city releases to reduce turbidity. Continued...
“We actually have a letter from New York state (Department of Health), which, rightfully or wrongfully, says the current activities related to the reduction and use of alum at Kensico, which has essentially resulted in the discharges to the Lower Esopus, is OK with the New York state Health Department,” he said.
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