Press Release: Save the Sound, Partner Organizations Urge State to Protect Water Quality in New York City

Clean water advocates call for health-based standards to ensure coastal waters are safe for public use 

Albany, NY — The Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic submitted comments on behalf of Save the Sound, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Riverkeeper to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) that strongly urge the agency to set new water quality standards for the coastal waters in and around New York City in a way that makes them healthier for recreation and restores ecological functions. The comments were submitted on Monday as part of a comment period to reevaluate New York City’s waters and consider new water quality standards.

In 2017, Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the partner organizations to compel the Environmental Protection Agency to adopt health protective standards that override the DEC’s. The pressure of that pending lawsuit compelled the DEC to open a comment period and propose new water quality standards.

New standards are needed to address New York City’s sewer overflows, which push about twenty billion gallons of raw sewage annually into coastal waters in all five boroughs, fouling the water with dangerous pathogens and potentially exposing recreationists to the contaminated water. The city’s current sewage management plans call for continuing the vast majority of those overflows for decades to come, but stronger water quality standards would drive more progress toward eliminating this pollution.

Using information submitted by the public through an interactive map created by the Pratt Institute Spatial Analysis and Visualization Initiative, the commenters documented more than 280,000 distinct uses of New York City’s coastal waters, including kayaking, shell-fishing, and swimming. Water quality improvements in the last several decades have brought New Yorkers back onto and in waters like the Hudson River, Bronx River, and Flushing Bay for recreation, and there is a need for further progress to meet the recreational needs of New Yorkers.

“Our organizations have been litigating since 2017 to require EPA, DEC, and DEP to set appropriate public health standards for swimmable and fishable waters in and around New York City. We are gratified they have started a process to do so, but we will be vigilant to ensure it is done right,” said Roger Reynolds, senior legal counsel at Save the Sound. “The water quality standards are not theoretical – they will directly impact how quickly and thoroughly New York City will have to act to eliminate its more than 20 billion gallons of sewage overflows that constitute an ongoing environmental justice catastrophe and imperil the health of New York City swimmers and boaters.” 

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