NYC Council Hears Legislation to Reduce Stormwater Pollution

With the backing of the Mayor and water quality concerns on the rise, the bill is expected to pass through Council with little opposition.

On Tuesday, December 13th, the New York City Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection held a hearing regarding a bill that, if passed, will grant the Department of Environmental Protection legal authority on addressing stormwater pollution in regards to facilities and construction sites. Intro 1346, sponsored by Committee Chair Costa Constantinides was introduced before the Council with the full support of Mayor de Blasio.

Stormwater pollution has always been a concern to the City and is still one of the greatest threats to City waterways. Approximately 60% of the city operates on a combined sewer infrastructure, meaning that wastewater and stormwater travel down the same pipes leading to treatment plants. During times of excessive rainfall and large isolated storm events, the city’s water plants are unable to handle the increased amount of water coming through the sewer lines. When this happens, plants release untreated water into New York City’s waterways through the combined sewer outfalls.

The remainings 40% of the City’s sewer systems is served by the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4), which carries stormwater runoff directly to waterways, bypassing the need for treatment at wastewater treatment plants. This system, while eliminating the risk of sending untreated sewage into our rivers, still poses a threat to water bodies, because pollutants (from construction sites and other facilities) picked up by stormwater enters the waterways untreated.  Intro 1346 addresses this issue by giving the DEP the authority to enforce the already existing State Department of Environmental Conservation’s MS4 Permits.

NYLCV is a strong supporter of Intro 1346, which will provide the City with the authority to act in a regulatory capacity, leading to oversight and/or enforcement of requirements regarding any and all activities that may contribute pollutants into stormwater runoff and waterbodies surrounding the City. The bill will also extend the NYCDEP’s robust existing program to detect and address illicit discharges and eliminations into the sewer system, with minor updates and applied citywide.

The hearing did highlight some of the main concerns brought up by Council Members from districts that are more prone to water pollution and flooding resulting from storms. The concerns, highlighted by Council Member Donovan Richards (District 31), where flooding is a major issue, include the staff enforcing the permits; the level, severity, and cost of fines; and how to lead businesses and facilities to change behaviors.

Another concern brought up by Felice Farber of The General Contractors Association of New York, is the need for clearer language around violations and their respective consequences. This language will allow for stronger enforcement in implementing the legislation.

Acting DEP Commissioner, Vincent Sapienza, stated that Intro 1346 will allow the DEP to act on the three programs that fall under the DEC’s MS4 Permits.  Through this, over 4,000 facility inspections will be required, leading to the hiring of some outside contractors, in addition to the existing staff of inspectors.

With the backing of the Mayor and water quality concerns on the rise, the bill is expected to pass through Council with little opposition.