The Stormwater Infrastructure Matters (SWIM) Coalition, consisting of dozens of organizations dedicated to ensuring swimmable and fishable waters around New York City, believes that the city’s current long-term goals for controlling sewage aren’t stringent enough.
But according to the recent Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) decision in the Alley Creek LTCP, the city is already doing all it needs to control sewage and storm overflow, says Lawrence Levine, SWIM Steering Committee member and senior attorney in the NRDC water program.
Following the submission of the Alley Creek LTCP by DEP, the state Department of Environmental Conservation said it didn’t go far enough to reduce stormwater outfall and sewage dumping, but the city sued to support its plan. Now, the fate of all future LTCP’s hang in the balance of that lawsuit, argues Levine.
“Because that was the first one to be submitted that set the tone for everything else,” he said. “If the city wins, they’re going to get to take that same position with every other plan. If the state wins, then the city will have to do more.”
According to Levine, the Clean Water Act calls for the establishment of the highest attainable use for a water body and says that ideally, all waterways should be swimmable and fishable. But according to DEP, maintaining the status quo goes far enough.
In Flushing Bay, which will be up for LTCP review in the next two years, the current designation is non-contact recreational use, but even those who use the waterway correctly face the risk of eye infections and gastrointestinal problems.
The Empire Dragon Boat Team NYC, a team of breast cancer survivors who use the bay regularly for practice, have had several members hospitalized after contact with the filthy, sewage-rich bay waters.
SWIM member Jaime Stein wrote to DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd called on the agency to be more transparent and welcome public input.
“It is impossible at this time for any member of the public to evaluate DEP’s proposal or its underlying analysis, as the public is merely provided a PowerPoint presentation, instead of the actual draft plan,” Stein wrote. “The final Hutchinson River LTCP submitted in September failed to even acknowledge the comment letter we submitted, at DEP’s invitation, following the last public meeting on that plan,” Stein added.