In an unprecedented challenge to New York City's management of its upstate reservoir system, the New York State Senate yesterday passed legislation (S.1768-a), by State Senator John Bonacic (R/I/C - Mt. Hope) and Senator James L. Seward (R/C/I- Milford), which would mandate a draw down of the city's reservoir system in anticipation of water inflow from rain or melting snow. The bill would apply to the six city reservoirs West of the Hudson River.
The bill, which DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd said just last week would "cripple" New York City's water supply system, passed by a wide margin of 45 to 12 after debate.
Senators ignored Lloyd's criticism, which was made at an assembly hearing last week and also dismissed New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's memorandum in opposition to the bill which was delivered to senators shortly before the vote.
"Today, Republicans and Democrats stood shoulder to shoulder to tell the DEP that their actions are not only endangering the watershed agreement, but residents of upstate as well. The fact that the DEP has lost so much credibility, because of scandal after scandal, from one commissioner to the next, shows the culture of irresponsibility which has enveloped that agency," Bonacic said.
Senator James L. Seward (R/C/I - Milford) stated, "My constituents in the Schoharie Valley who live in the shadow of the Gilboa Dam -- a safety deficient New York City structure -- are in fear that a significant rainfall or snowmelt, or both, could burst the dam and sweep away their lives and homes. The legislation approved by the senate will require the city to anticipate weather events and put human lives ahead of tap water."
The bill, introduced by Senator Bonacic in 2004, gained momentum last year after massive April flooding. Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther (D - Forestburgh) sponsors the legislation in the Assembly.
Bonacic also directly contradicted criticism by individuals who have said the bill would have reservoir level decisions made based on politics. "The legislation requires the DEC to make rules on reservoir draw-downs. Rules are made after receiving public comments and must be rational to sustain court scrutiny. Thankfully the overwhelming number of senators rejected the false arguments put forward by those who want to hold the DEP's hand instead of holding the DEP accountable," Bonacic said.
"The DEP has told our constituents they have no business living near their reservoirs
because when the rain comes at the wrong time, they're going to get flooded. The reservoirs were built long after people moved to the Catskills. The reservoirs are not naturally occurring features. When you build a dam and a reservoir, you have an obligation to build it safely. We expect that of the private sector and taxpayers and certainly, we ought to expect it of government," concluded Senators Bonacic and Seward.