FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 20, 2011
SCHUMER: QUESTIONABLE EPA PLAN TO CAP YONKERS RESERVOIR COULD COST NYC RESIDENTS $1.6 BILLION AND TRIGGER HIGHER WATER RATES; CALLS ON EPA TO ABANDON PLAN AND WORK WITH NYC TO IMPLEMENT AN EFFECTIVE, CHEAPER ALTERNATIVE
Inflexible Implementation of an EPA Reg Would Require NYC to Build $1.6 Billion Dollar Concrete Wall Over Hillview Reservoir in Yonkers To Protect Against Rare Illnesses, Even Though NYC Is Already Building New Ultraviolet Plant to Further Disinfect NYC’s Famously Pure Tap Water
Schumer to EPA: Don’t be Inflexible; Collaborate With the City to Develop a Cheaper, Effective Solution to Keep Our Drinking Water Clean
United States Senator Charles E. Schumer today called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) not to inflexibly pursue a very costly, burdensome and potentially unnecessary reservoir-covering requirement that would force New York City to build a $1.6 billion concrete ceiling over Hillview Reservoir in Yonkers, New York to protect drinking water from biological pathogens. Schumer said that said the one-size-fits-all federal mandate – the Federal Long Term 2 Surface Water Treatment Rule – should not be inflexibly applied to New York City’s system due to the City’s long and impressive track record of delivering clean drinking water to millions of residents and because New York City is already building a UV plant to kill harmful bacteria, like cryptosporidium, before it gets to the reservoir.
Schumer’s call comes in the wake of a report from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) which found that a concrete covering over Hillview would do little to improve public health, while leaving New York with $1.6 billion in construction costs – costs that could drive up residents’ already rising water rates by 3%. In a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Schumer urged the EPA to partner with City officials and develop an equally protective, more cost-effective alternative. Schumer also points out that, given the amount of capital investment the City is required to make to maintain the health of its sprawling, unparalleled drinking water system, which has consistently delivered high-quality drinking water to untold millions over many decades without serious incident, forcing the City to spend over a billion dollars on a questionable investment with very little evidence of the problem it will avert is not the best use of the City’s precious tax dollars in terms of preserving the system’s long-term ability to continue to deliver high-quality drinking water.
“Given New York’s City’s long track record of delivering clean, safe drinking water year after year to millions and millions of residents, and their investment in a state-of-the-art UV plant to kill bacteria, the EPA needs to show some flexibility here, and instead of forcing a billion dollar square lid onto a round container should work with NYC to forge a cheaper, effective solution to keep our drinking water clean,” said Schumer. “New Yorkers have seen their water bills rise year after year after year, and the last thing they should be forced to do is pay more for a hugely expensive, questionable project when more cost-effective alternatives exist. While we must ensure that our city’s water supply remains pure, there is more than one way to skin this cat, and the EPA’s rigidity here would impose an unnecessary burden on New York City rate payers without improving public health in a significant way. Like it has with regard to granting the filtration waiver for the Catskill-Delaware system, which saves the City billions, I urge the EPA to go back to the drawing board and work with the City to develop a solution that is both cost-effective and protects drinking water quality.”
The EPA is requiring New York City to build a $1.6 billion concrete covering over the Hillview reservoir in order to comply with an EPA regulation that all open reservoirs that contain treated drinking water be covered with concrete or retreat the water. The EPA says that the covering would protect water from contamination by animal droppings, which they have claimed would prevent 365,000 cases of cryptosporidiosis – a parasitic disease – per year. However, according to a recent report from the DEP, the New York City Department of Health currently counts only about 100 cases a year, which also may be caused by sources other than public drinking water.
Schumer said that such an expensive project is not essential to preserve water quality, especially because New York City is already building the Catskill-Delaware Water Ultraviolet Distinction Facility in Westchester that would further purify the water by killing the pathogens that cause cryptosporidiosis. At 160,000-sq-ft, the facility is the largest ultraviolet disinfection facility in the word; according to the City, building this plant will take important steps to enhance water quality. Schumer also noted that the New York City, which has the largest and most impressive water system in the nation, conducts more than 500,000 water quality tests annually, and that the Yonkers reservoir has provided city residents with clean, drinkable water for 95 years without any major health concerns.
Schumer said that the EPA’s plan would place an unnecessary burden on many New Yorkers, who could be forced to help pay the $1.6 billion in expected construction costs through water rate increases of as much as 3%. New York City residents have already seen their water rates rise 91% since 2006, and Schumer said there was not a compelling reason to place further unnecessary fees on New Yorkers given both the significant capital investments that New York City must take to maintain its vast system and the existence of cheaper, effective methods for addressing the same water quality concerns.
In a letter to EPA Administrator Jackson, Schumer today called on the EPA to reconsider its plan to force New York City to build the cap and work with the City to develop a cheaper, effective solution to satisfy the EPA’s health concerns. Schumer said that the EPA has a long history of working collaboratively with New York City and should work to find commonsense approaches to the management of the New York City water system that protect the rare high quality of the water while avoiding billions in construction costs. Schumer said the filtration avoidance program the EPA and New York City implement for the Catskill-Delaware system west of the Hudson River demonstrates that spirit of collaboration and mutual commitment to the highest quality at an affordable price, and urged the EPA to follow that example in developing a new plan for the Yonkers Reservoir.
A copy of Schumer’s letter to EPA Administrator Jackson is below:
Dear Administrator Jackson:
I write to express my concern that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is seeking to mandate that New York City cap the Hillview Reservoir in Yonkers, New York at a cost of $1.6 billion, which would saddle the city's already hard-pressed water bill ratepayers with billions in avoidable capital costs. Instead, I urge the EPA to partner with the City to find alternative common sense strategies that will protect public health in a more cost-effective manner.
I am concerned that, as a result of Federal Long Term 2 Surface Water Treatment Rule, finalized in 2006, the EPA is requiring a cover over the Hillview Reservoir in Yonkers, New York. New York City is already in the process of completing a $1.6 billion facility just north of the reservoir that will treat water for pathogens using ultraviolet light, and the City conducts more than 500,000 water quality tests annually. This investment in the system clearly demonstrates New York City’s commitment to maintaining a clean water supply and to implementing data-driven approaches to enhancing water quality. Given the efforts New York City has already undertaken to improve the water system, it is imperative that the EPA works collaboratively with the City to find cost-effective ways to further enhance water quality. Clean water systems are not one-size-fits-all and New York City should not be made to comply with rules that are unduly onerous or costly and not based on the best available data. For this reason, I urge you to work with the City, as EPA does on the question of filtration avoidance for the West-of-Hudson system, to find ways to ensure water quality without saddling the City, and rate payers, with the bill for and extremely expensive cap on the reservoir.
New York City manages the largest and most-impressive drinking water system in the nation, a system that provides clean drinking water for over 9 million residents and others located in the watershed area. There has been a long and effective partnership between the EPA and the City on drinking water management from the upstate reservoir system, and in particular with regard to management of the Catskill-Delaware system. Indeed, the EPA has a long history of working collaboratively with New York City to find common sense approaches to management of the New York City water system that protect the rare high quality of the water, while staving off billions in unnecessary capital costs. For example, the filtration avoidance program the EPA and New York City implement for the Catskill-Delaware system west of the Hudson River demonstrates that spirit of collaboration and mutual commitment to the highest quality at an affordable price. It is a program that saves the City upwards of $9 billion, while ensuring the highest drinking water standards.
In that same vein, I urge the EPA work with New York City to develop a plan to avoid the cost of capping the Hillview Reservoir, and instead develop less costly protocols for achieving the same high level water quality. Strict adherence to one-size-fits-all high-capital approach is not a framework for developing the solutions that will achieve the mutually held goal of providing clean drinking water to millions, while not burdening New York City residents with avoidable rate increases, nor hamstringing the City by crowding out other, most essential capital investments in the maintenance of the excellence of the sprawling water delivery system.
By working together with New York City, I am confident that the EPA can find a common sense solution to protect the water quality of the New York City system and I look forward to working with you to make this a reality.
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer