Senate Committee Passes Two Watershed Bills

John J. Bonacic

May 04, 2005

State Senator John J. Bonacic today announced that legislation which would address two significant watershed problems has cleared the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee with unanimous, bipartisan support.

The legislation:

Requires the DEC to make regulations lowering the City of New York’s reservoirs when a major inflow of water is anticipated. (S.265)

Requires the City of New York to allow recreational use of their lands in the watershed similar to State owned lands in the Catskills. (S.1768)

"Dozens if not hundreds of discussions have occurred on the reservoir release issue over three decades. The City has not adopted a successful flood release policy. If they won’t adopt one on their own, I will do my best to legislate one - with the help of DEC staff, engineers, and experts," Senator Bonacic said.

Bonacic’s reservoir release has also been introduced in the Assembly by Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther (D - Forestburgh) as Assembly Bill 7836. "It is good news that we have bipartisan support in the State Legislature on this issue. Those other Assemblymembers who think that talking, rather than doing, is going to get the City to move, are living in fantasyland. I applaud Assemblywoman Gunther for having the political courage to step up and sponsor this important legislation with me," Bonacic said.

Assemblywoman Gunther said, "I am pleased to carry this legislation. While the reservoirs are meant to provide drinking water, the City also has to learn to become good neighbors. Hopefully this legislation will help teach them that."

In addition to the reservoir release legislation, Senate Bill 265 mandates that the City of New York open up its land to recreational uses similar to those on State owned lands in the Catskills. The legislation exempts those lands, which, for reasons relating to the security of the reservoir, should not be opened up.

"For more than a century, people have hunted and hiked the Catskill Forest Preserve. Outdoor enthusiasts are good neighbors and care about the land. Under the watershed agreement, the City was required to likewise open up its land to historic recreation uses such as hunting. They have breached their obligation to do so," Bonacic said.

Under the Bonacic legislation, which is cosponsored by Senator James Seward, the City’s land acquisition permit would be revoked unless the City modifies their regulations to make them similar to the uses allowed on State owned lands in the Catskills. "I certainly do not like everything the DEC does. However, under Governors of all political views, the DEC has demonstrated it can be a good steward of the land for the people of our State. The DEP should follow that example," Bonacic said.

Under the Watershed Memorandum of Agreement, the City is required to allow historic recreational uses on its land. Despite such requirements, the City has prohibited hunting of virtually all types of animals, has denied access to its property without a permit, has failed to make those permits available on site, and has issued warning tickets to those who violate their regulations.

"The DEP regulations are out of compliance with the watershed agreement. This legislation gives them the opportunity to fix those regulations. If they fail to do so, the State should do it for them. I appreciate the unanimous support of the Republicans and Democrats in the Senate Committee who voted for this legislation, and hope the DEP takes the hint," Bonacic said.