BAS Testimony on Scope of Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for Croton Water Treatment Plant
October 8, 2003
RE: CEQR No. 98DEP027X
Dear Department of Environmental Protection,
Bedford Audubon Society is a 90 year old, 800 member chapter of National Audubon Society in northern Westchester and Eastern Putnam County, the heart of New York City's Croton Watershed. We are also active members of the Croton Watershed Clean Water Coalition.
The issue of drinking water filtration in the Croton Watershed is one of our primary conservation issues, and it is also a policy issue of New York State Audubon and the Council of Audubon Chapters of New York. All these organizations have adopted a policy opposed to construction of a filtration plant for the Croton System.
The mission of the Bedford Audubon Society is to promote conservation and protection of wildlife habitats in the Northern Westchester and Eastern Putnam region through education, advocacy, nature study and birdwatching. We are concerned that unnecessary chemical filtration of the Croton System will result in real estate development pressures that will significantly impinge on now diminishing wildlife habitat in our region.
Some of the species of concern in our region are Red-shouldered Hawks and Wood Thrush that require large territories and forested areas to breed and survive within the watershed, we must protect the diminishing wild open spaces that are causing increasing contact between people and wildlife.
The same holds true for many other more common species that are part of the intricate web of life that keeps our watershed ecosystem healthy and naturally protective of the precious water we all drink.
When Westchester or Putnam County residents tell us that they now hear Barred Owls calling, it is due to real estate development that threatens its natural wetland habitat and adjoining uplands.
Most importantly, New York City's Department of Environmental Protection has historically failed to adequately protect the watershed buffer lands and wetlands through enforcement of its rules and regulations.
Even today, many of the funds earmarked for wastewater treatment plant upgrades in the watershed are the subject of attempts to hijack these funds for use in misguided sewage diversion pipes intended to dump the inadequately treated sewage on poorer, minority communities and ultimately into the Hudson River while avoiding the real problems of enforcement and avoiding the wealthier watershed communities' responsibility for their own waste.
The current Watershed Agreement negotiated by Michael Finnegan of Governor Pataki's office is the result of litigation by real estate and commercial interests that attempted to force the city to stop enforcing these regulations in the city watersheds by abrogating the city's right to control development in the watershed. As key provisions in this agreement are modified or found lacking in the light of public scrutiny, the watershed agreement appears to show signs of unraveling.
When this watershed agreement was negotiated, the East of Hudson System was given short shrift, almost as though the negotiations (which included only one or two environmental groups as active participants) had been conducted like horse trading, with the drinking water systems for New York City's residents treated as manipulated objects in their negotiations, without regard for the facts or the health and economic well being of the citizens of New York City or of the Watershed.
In the final Watershed Agreement, the high real estate values of the Croton System were seen as an impediment to purchase of adequate buffer lands, without regard to the alternative, chemical filtration. This decision was negotiated behind closed doors to prevent litigation and was not subject to full public participation.
In this final agreement, only $10 million was appropriated for acquisition of watershed buffer lands around the Croton System reservoirs.
Please note that $243 million representing over 20 times the amount appropriated for acquisition of Croton watershed buffer lands has now been allocated as a bribe by New York City for improvements to Bronx parks so that the chemical filtration plant can be built in the city, over the objection of Bronx residents but in line with construction union requests for the jobs that would come with this enormous, unnecessary project.
As a result of this arbitrary, negotiated watershed agreement beyond the scrutiny of the public, the United States Environmental Protection Agency decreed that the Croton System would be subject to a consent order requiring a chemical filtration plant be built to protect the drinking water supply.
Had the initial memorandum of agreement considered all alternatives, including filtration avoidance, we would not be here today pleading for a rational approach to protecting our region's precious drinking water supply and the disappearing wildlife habitat within its watershed buffer lands.
So we remind you that we are here today due to New York City's inability to enforce its watershed rules and regulations in the face of tremendous real estate development pressures, which we as conservationists see first hand when we battle environmentally inappropriate real estate development in the watershed.
When we look at the draft scope of the supplemental environmental impact statement, we are struck by its reliance on the assumption that New York City will enforce the watershed rules & regulations.
We ask that the scope of the SEIS include a complete history of their enforcement of the rules and regulations, and their effectiveness. This is crucial for proper evaluation of the WTP siting due to the reliance that New York City places on this argument for chemical filtration.
The SEIS should include a history of all permit applications and any resulting environmental damage associated with each permit in the Croton Watershed. Additionally, this should include the effectiveness of New York City Department of Environmental Protection to litigate where permits are challenged, with the history of any subsequent environmental damage.
Additionally, we would like to point out the following inadequacies of the draft scope:
1) The draft scope should consider all
alternatives to the WTP, including alternative disinfectants and other recently
2) The interim issue of haloacetic acids must be addressed, and the cumulative impact of such treatment must be included in the scope of the SEIS.
3) All factors causing drinking water contamination must be addressed in the overall study, including but not limited to cross contamination from leaky wastewater pipes and drinking water aqueducts, and age and condition of the existing aqueducts.
4) Projected increases in contamination due to reliance on the chemical filtration plant must be addressed (see our comments above regarding evaluation of New York City's enforcement of the watershed rules and regulations). Consequently, provision for future expansion of the WTP must be included within the scope of the SEIS.
5) The impact on rodents at the chemical filtration plant site at Mosholu must be addressed, as well as the resulting impact on the neighboring community.
6) The impact of the construction will most likely increase the already abnormally high levels of asthma in the neighborhoods adjacent to the WTP site at Mosholu. The benefits of constructing the plant must be weighed and quantified and compared to projected health impacts of increased asthma frequency and severity in the population around the plant.
Our sources indicate that the construction of this enormous chemical filtration plant will take 10 years, not 5 years as stated. Therefore, the DEP must provide data on environmental impacts to the surrounding community over a 10 year period.
7) The impact of energy outages must be adequately treated in the SEIS. Failure of the WTP would cause a major city-wide emergency affecting millions of residents.
8) The SEIS must include a study of the impact of low frequency electromagnetic fields from high capacity power lines required for this project, including readings in residential areas adjacent to the proposed projects, particularly for its potential impact on young children.
9) The source of $243 million in funds provided by New York City to offset impacts on Van Cortlandt Park must be clearly validated clearly defining their source and application. This Memorandum of Understanding should be an integral part of the scope of the SEIS.
Also, the city must explain why these $243 million in funds are better spent on improving Bronx parks than in acquiring Croton Watershed buffer lands to protect water quality at the source, where only $10 million has been allocated to preserve the current good water quality through land acquisition.
You would think that we learned our lessons after Rachel Carson in her landmark warning "Silent Spring" eloquently woke us up to the dangers of a chemical palliative for our environmental problems. The draft SEIS must include all factors that may help us determine any dangers in a chemical filtration plant for solving our land use issues in the Croton Watershed.
Donald C. Pachner, Chair