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DEC to Require Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Ashokan Reservoir Water Release Proposal

Written By Editor on 2/14/22 | 2/14/22

State to Require NYCDEP to Address Climate Change, Duration of Turbidity Events, Potential Mitigation Measures, Impacts on Drinking Water Supply Safe Yield, and Hudson River Drinking Water Impacts

Additional Analysis Following Review of 1,300 Public Comments on Ashokan Draft Permit Modification and DEIS

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) today announced the agency is requiring the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) to undertake additional analysis and prepare a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) for releases from the city's Ashokan Reservoir. The new requirements follow DEC's review of nearly 1,300 comments submitted during the 2021 public comment period on a Draft Catalum State Pollution Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) Permit Modification and draft Environmental Impact Statement for Ashokan Reservoir releases.

"Safeguarding water quality for Hudson Valley and Catskill communities is critical to ongoing efforts to protect New York City's water supply," DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. "Today's announcement requires actions to further address impacts to water quality in the Ashokan Reservoir and connected waters in consideration of the thousands of comments DEC received from local residents and other stakeholders. DEC will continue to work with NYCDEP to ensure the ongoing protection of drinking water and natural resources."

After releasing the draft SPDES permit and DEIS for public comment, DEC held public statement hearings on Feb. 3, and March 3, 2021, and an extended public comment period that ended June 16, 2021. Comments submitted by residents, elected officials, and other stakeholders addressed the need to reduce turbidity in the Ashokan Reservoir and connected waterbodies, including the Lower Esopus Creek. In addition, many commenters requested that NYCDEP look more closely at alternatives to address turbidity issues in the system.

The SDEIS will augment information included in the draft permit modification that incorporates turbidity control measures, including operation of the Ashokan Reservoir in accordance with the "Interim Release Protocol," helping to improve water quality, mitigate potential flood impacts, protect critical fish and wildlife habitat in the Ashokan and downstream communities, and continue to provide a reliable supply of clean drinking water. The documents can be found on DEC's website.

Required additional analysis in the SDEIS includes:

  • Comprehensive examination of the impacts reservoir water releases to the Hudson River drinking water supply;
  • Preparation of a more detailed Alternatives Analysis, including the assessment of mitigation alternatives in combination;
  • Efforts to address the impacts of climate change on future water supply operations; and
  • Methods under the new analyses to ensure an adequate water supply "safe yield."

After NYCDEP submits the SDEIS and DEC determines it is complete, DEC will release the submission for public review and comment.

The draft SPDES permit modification and DEIS would codify and fulfill requirements in a 2013 Order on Consent (PDF) between New York City and New York State. DEC and NYCDEP work closely with the Ashokan Release Working Group, which consists of municipal officials, environmental groups, community residents, and other stakeholders, to share information and input during the development of the DEIS and the draft permit.

Senator Michelle Hinchey said, "Protecting our natural resources and the quality of our drinking water is of paramount importance, and we thank the DEC for recognizing the urgent need for better management of the Ashokan Reservoir. With the climate crisis making extreme weather more frequent and intense, we know that new mechanisms for remediating these turbid releases are desperately needed. For months we have been calling for a more comprehensive study on the impacts of these releases on our local communities, and we're extremely grateful to the DEC for hearing our calls. We are encouraged that this supplemental DEIS will give us deeper insight into ways we can move forward to protect our watershed communities while still delivering the best quality water to New York City residents."

Ulster County Executive Patrick Ryan said, "This is a major victory for our community - after decades of fighting to hold New York City accountable for the damage they have caused, and continue to cause. I would like to thank DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos for listening and working with the requests of not just my office but the countless environmental groups, local leaders, and residents who have collectively called for this action. The City of New York has benefited from and depends upon our clean water, and downstream impacts like the turbid water we saw last winter and spring can't become their standard operating procedure. The DEC's requirement of a Supplemental EIS is an important step in ensuring that they are good neighbors and respect our environment and residents in the process."

"The Ashokan Reservoir forms a major part of one of the greatest water supply systems in the world, and today's decision by the NYS DEC recognizes that delivering safe, pure drinking water to the residents of New York City cannot come at the expense of water quality or the quality of life of those who live downstream from the reservoir," said Kathy Nolan, Senior Research Director for Catskill Mountainkeeper. "By requiring New York City to do further analysis, she continued, "the DEC is protecting water quality in the Esopus Creek and Hudson River while making sure that the best possible options are considered to deal with and mitigate impacts from climate change. The communities near the Ashokan Reservoir can now step up efforts to make sure that their needs are addressed and to participate constructively in the ongoing review of New York City's plans."

"We applaud this important and long-awaited decision," said Victoria Leung, Riverkeeper Staff Attorney. "For more than a decade, communities, individuals, and elected officials have been calling for New York City to find an alternative to its massive, muddy releases from Ashokan Reservoir into the Lower Esopus Creek. This is an important milestone, but we will have to ensure the city acts with urgency to address these concerns, and finally develops a real solution that will protect both downstream communities and everyone who relies on the city's drinking water."

For more information about the New York City reservoir system, go to NYC's Reservoir System website (leaves DEC website).

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