The State Assembly recently examined progress on the spend-down of the $2.5 billion allocated to clean water in this year’s budget and the impact it is making on water quality issues such as nitrogen pollution and algal blooms. At the hearing, advocates urged the state officials to remain steadfast in their commitment to clean water despite budgetary challenges and offered a number of suggestions to improve these efforts moving forward. New York State boasts a bounty of waterways that provide for our drinking water, recreation, and support vibrant marine ecosystems. The funding dedicated to water infrastructure projects must be properly used to ensure clean and safe water for all residents of New York.
In New York State’s 2017-18 budget, $2.5 billion was dedicated to the implementation of The Clean Water Infrastructure Act, the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act, and the creation of the Drinking Water Council and the Water Quality Rapid Response Task Force. These programs help communities invest in drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater systems to protect public health and the environment.
While the level of funding is historic, the devil is in the details and the spend-down of The Clean Water Infrastructure Act has received constructive feedback our partners at Riverkeeper and the NRDC at the oversight hearing. Riverkeeper identified proactive strategies to protect water before it becomes contaminated and has suggested many solutions that build on the historic advancements Governor Cuomo and the Legislature have made on water infrastructure and drinking water protection. Riverkeeper’s suggestions include testing for pre-existing contaminants in water and developing alternate drinking water supplies when necessary to protect public health. Riverkeeper’s “Reforming the Water Vision” was drafted in response to New York State’s water crisis, highlighting the fact that the crisis was caused by decades of under-investment in our water infrastructure. Their publication highlights proactive strategies for the vital task of preventing crises and ensuring efficient use of the water we use.
NRDC’s Larry Levine also testified at the hearing, emphasizing the need to complement the infrastructure grant program with a new low-income affordability program to ensure clean drinking water for all New Yorkers. Levine noted that rapidly rising rates, in combination with slower income growth and rising income inequality, are making water and sewer costs increasingly expensive. Levine’s testimony outlines the NRDC’s water affordability proposal, which is supported by a coalition of environmental advocacy and justice groups throughout the state. The proposal suggests continuing significant state grant funding for water infrastructure, adopting a new water affordability program, and source water protection which would ban fracking in the Delaware River Basin.
Another prominent critique of the comes from Assemblymember Steve Englebright. Englebright spoke at the Manhattan hearing on water quality improvement efforts last Monday, which included discussions on two separate product liability lawsuits filed in U.S. Eastern District Court in Central Islip. The water authority, which serves 1.2 million Suffolk residents, announced that it detected 1,4-dioxane, a man-made chemical widely found as a byproduct in cleaning and personal care products, in its water supply. New York’s water budget includes $75 million for septic system replacement funding in Suffolk, now especially needed in light of proposed cuts in the EPA’s budget. “We have an administration in Washington that is talking a lot about how we’re going to make America great again — you can’t do that with dirty water,” Englebright said.
New York State is very reliant upon its waterways for consumption, travel, recreation, and more. The importance of New York’s waterways was made evident in the State’s 2017-18 budget, with $2.5 billion dedicated to water infrastructure projects over the next several years. At NYLCV, we continue to believe water quality should be a major priority of New York State’s budget initiatives now and in the future.