NYS Enacts Loophole-Closing Legislation to Safeguard State Water Resources

After nearly three years of advocacy by environmental groups and detailed review in Albany, comprehensive legislation to regulate the use of state water resources finally sailed through the New York State Senate last night.

The bill closes a giant loophole in state water law by establishing a new comprehensive permit system for persons and corporations seeking to withdraw large volumes of water from the state’s rivers, streams, aquifers and waters of the Great Lakes.

Presently, most high volume water users in New York – including power plants, golf courses, snow-making facilities, mining operations, oil and gas producers, water bottlers, and other commercial and industrial users – are free to withdraw state waters, largely unregulated.

Under the new law, persons, corporations and governmental entities seeking to withdraw 100,000 gallons or more a day from state waters for agricultural, commercial or industrial uses would first be required to secure a permit from DEC.

Permit applicants would be required to demonstrate that their proposed withdrawals will not result in significant adverse impacts on the quantity or quality of the water source or on water-dependent natural resources.

And to secure a permit, the applicants would also need to show that they have put into place comprehensive water conservation and efficiency measures.

Among other things, the new law would also regulate large water withdrawals from the Great Lakes basin and bring New York State into compliance with the interstate Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact.

An identical bill was enacted by the State Assembly earlier this year.  Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has strongly supported the loophole-closing legislation, is expected to sign the bill into law.

Deserving of special thanks are Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Senator Mark Grisanti, as well as Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assemblyman Bob Sweeney, along with their unsung staff members who toiled on this bill.

Of course, we thank Governor Cuomo, who we believe will sign this legislation with enthusiasm.  We appreciate the strong support for the legislation from DEC Commissioner Joe Martens and his water deputy James Tierney and their staff.  We thank them in advance for what we hope will be the Department’s aggressive and effective implementation of this important legislation.

Rich Schrader, NRDC’s NYS Legislative Director, spearheaded NRDC’s efforts on this bill in Albany.  Congratulations also go to our environmental colleagues, including Katherine Nadeau from Environmental Advocates of New York, Jessica Ottney at The Nature Conservancy and Bill Cooke of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment for their tenacious work over several years to advance this legislation.

This legislation recognizes the fundamental role that safe and sufficient water plays in the economic and environmental lives of all New Yorkers.  If aggressively implemented, this new law will help New York meet its top priority water needs for water supply, agriculture, wildlife, recreation and other purposes well into the 21st century.

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