One key element of DEP’s Long-Term Watershed Protection Program is a comprehensive regulatory program that strives to minimize the risk of water quality impacts from specific watershed activities and associated development pressures.

Regulatory Background

The Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1986 required the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop criteria under which filtration would be required for public surface water supplies. In 1989, the EPA promulgated the Surface Water Treatment Rule, which requires all public water systems supplied by unfiltered surface water sources to either provide filtration or meet the following criteria to avoid filtration:

Objective Water Quality Criteria:
The water supply must meet certain levels for specific constituents including coliform bacteria, turbidity, and disinfection by-products.
Operational Criteria:
The system must demonstrate compliance with certain disinfection requirements for inactivation of Giardia (a pathogen) and viruses; maintain a minimum chlorine residual entering and throughout the distribution system; provide uninterrupted disinfection with redundancy; and undergo an annual on-site inspection by the primacy agency to review the condition of disinfection equipment.
Watershed Control Criteria:
The system must establish and maintain an effective watershed control program to minimize the potential for contamination of source waters by Giardia and viruses.

New York City first applied for a filtration waiver for the Catskill/Delaware system in 1991. DEP filed this initial application with the New York State Department of Health because at the time it was believed that the DOH had primary enforcement responsibility (primacy) for all water supply systems in the State. The DOH granted DEP a one-year filtration waiver, and subsequently it was determined that the EPA had retained primacy for the Catskill/Delaware systems.

In mid-1992, DEP submitted a thirteen-volume application to the EPA describing in detail the City’s plans for protecting the Catskill/Delaware water supply. In January 1993, the EPA issued a conditional determination granting filtration avoidance until December 31, 1993. This waiver incorporated many elements of the watershed program that DEP had described in mid-1992, and it was conditioned upon the City meeting 66 deadlines for identifying potential pollution sources, addressing existing sources of contamination, and developing programs to ensure long-term protection of the watershed. The EPA also imposed substantial reporting requirements on DEP to monitor the City’s filtration avoidance progress.

In September 1993, DEP submitted a second filtration avoidance application to the EPA. This application was based upon the knowledge gained through the City’s initiation of numerous watershed studies and programs, and it laid out a long-term strategy for protecting water quality in the Catskill/Delaware system. The EPA again determined that New York City’s watershed program met the criteria for filtration avoidance, although they did express concerns about the program’s ability to meet the criteria in the future. On December 30, 1993, EPA issued a second determination that contained 150 conditions related primarily to enhanced watershed protection and monitoring programs. The EPA also required the City to proceed with designing a filtration facility for the Catskill/Delaware water supply so that no time would be lost should filtration be deemed necessary in the future.

Two critical pieces of watershed protection that were incorporated into the EPA’s December 1993 Filtration Avoidance Determination were the implementation of a land acquisition program and the promulgation of revised watershed regulations. When both of these programs were quickly and vocally met with em objections from watershed residents about potential impacts to the rural character and economic viability of their communities, DEP was unable to move forward with implementing those key program elements.

It was against this backdrop that Governor Pataki convened a group of involved agencies and parties to negotiate an accord. These negotiations involved the City, State, EPA, and local representatives from watershed towns, counties, and environmental groups. In November 1995, the parties agreed to a conceptual framework by which the City could advance its watershed protection program while protecting the economic viability of watershed communities. It took another 14 months to hammer out the details of an agreement, and in January 1997 the parties signed the historic Watershed Memorandum of Agreement.

The MOA supplemented the City’s existing watershed protection program with approximately $350 million in additional funding for economic and environmental partnership programs with upstate communities, including a water quality investment program, a regional economic development fund, and a regional advisory group for water quality initiatives and watershed concerns. The State issued the City a watershed land acquisition permit and also approved revisions to the City’s Watershed Rules and Regulations governing certain land use activities in the watershed. The City secured another five-year FAD for the Catskill/Delaware system and agreed to implement significant watershed protection programs while providing funding to communities to maintain their character and economic viability.

In December 2001, near the end of the five-year FAD of 1997, DEP submitted a Long-Term Watershed Protection Plan which included significant enhancements to the overall watershed protection program. This resulted in the City securing another five-year FAD from the EPA in November 2002.

In March 2006, DEP submitted a Watershed Protection Program Summary and Assessment Report which served as a reference for discussing future programs and activities with the EPA, DOH, and other parties. DEP subsequently updated its Long-Term Watershed Protection Plan which was submitted to the EPA and DOH in December 2006 and was designed to outline specific watershed programs and activities for an additional five-year period. These documents resulted in the EPA and DOH issuing their July 2007 FAD for the Catskill/Delaware system covering the ten-year period 2007-2017.

In 2008, in response to new federal regulations which require public water supplies to provide enhanced disinfection treatment of drinking water, DEP began constructing an ultraviolet light disinfection facility at the City-owned Eastview site in Westchester County. When completed, this new UV facility will treat all water flowing from the Catskill/Delaware system and thereby provide an additional disinfection barrier against potentially harmful microbiological contaminants such as waterborne pathogens, bacteria and viruses. The Catskill/Delaware UV facility is scheduled to be completed and on line in 2012.

With respect to the Croton system, the City is proceeding with the construction of a filtration plant pursuant to the terms of a November 1998 federal court Consent Decree. The Croton filtration plant will ensure compliance with stricter water quality standards and is expected to reduce color levels, the risk of microbiological contamination, and disinfection byproduct levels in Croton water. In September 2004 the City issued a notice to proceed with the first phase of construction at the Mosholu Golf Course site in the Bronx. The second and third phases went forward in August 2006 and August 2007, respectively, with additional work progressing each year. The Croton Water Filtration Plant is expected to be operational by 2012.

NYC Watershed Regulations

The quality of drinking water supplied to New York City and dozens of neighboring upstate communities depends primarily on the quality of the streams and rivers which feed the water supply reservoirs. These source waters are vulnerable to degradation and contamination from various watershed land uses, development activities, and assorted land management practices.

Under authority granted by New York State’s Public Health Law, DEP has enacted regulations to protect the existing high quality of the New York City water supply and preserve it from future degradation. These Rules and Regulations for the Protection from Contamination, Degradation and Pollution of the New York City Water Supply and its Sources apply to all of the following activities when they occur within the watershed:

  • Residential septic systems;
  • Intermediate-sized wastewater treatment systems;
  • Wastewater treatment plants;
  • Construction of a paved driveway or other impervious surfaces adjacent to a stream;
  • Crossing, diverting or piping a stream;
  • Construction of a house or other structure adjacent to a stream or watercourse;
  • Connection to an existing sewer system with a service lateral;
  • A land clearing or land grading project, involving two or more acres, located at least in part within the limiting distance of 100 feet of a watercourse or wetland, or within the limiting distance of 300 feet of a reservoir, reservoir stem or controlled lake or on a slope exceeding 15 percent;
  • Application and storage of fertilizers;
  • Discharge from agricultural activities;
  • Siting of junkyards or solid waste management facilities; and
  • Discharge or storage of other hazardous materials, petroleum products, pesticides, highway maintenance materials, or other sewage.

In general, watershed activities that meet the above regulatory criteria require DEP to review and approve a project application that is completed and submitted by the entity seeking to conduct the activity—this can be a landowner, business, municipality, etc. Some projects may require the applicant to develop and submit to DEP a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan or Individual Residential Stormwater Plan. Certain regulated projects may also require that a permit be issued by the applicable local, City, State or federal agency.

Application Process for Regulatory Approvals

In order to discuss regulated activities in the watershed and to better understand New York City regulatory requirements and procedures, prospective applicants are encouraged to meet with DEP staff before developing and submitting their project applications. A pre-application conference can benefit both the applicant and DEP when it comes to understanding and planning the project in its early stages. It also allows applicants to request a DEP site visit to identify any watercourses or other environmental issues that may affect the project.

To request a pre-application conference, contact the appropriate DEP office listed below:

Arkville Office (for Delaware and Sullivan Counties)
669 County Highway 38
Arkville, NY 12406
(845) 771-1119

Kingston Office (for Greene, Schoharie & Ulster Counties)
71 Smith Avenue
Kingston, NY 12401
(845) 340-7214

Valhalla Office (for all East of Hudson Counties)
465 Columbus Avenue
Valhalla, NY 10595
(914) 749-5266

DEP endeavors to review and decide on submitted applications in as timely a manner as possible, which is why certain steps of the application process have timelines established to expedite project review and approval. Once all necessary materials have been submitted and an application is deemed “Complete,” DEP’s review must be completed within the specified timeframe otherwise the application will be rendered “Approved”. Conventional individual sewage disposal systems have a more streamlined timeline for project applications.

Applicant Guides

To assist watershed residents and communities with preparing regulatory applications for DEP review and approval, and to expedite the project review process overall, DEP has developed the following series of Applicant Guides for specific projects:

State Environmental Quality Review Act

In addition to complying with New York City Watershed Regulations, many watershed activities are also subject to the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). Under SEQRA, proposed construction activities occurring within a municipal jurisdiction are subject to the review and commentary of other involved agencies to minimize or eliminate potential environmental impacts.

For all projects that trigger the New York City Watershed Regulations, DEP is at least named an “Involved Agency” and may also assume the role of “Lead Agency” where potential impacts to the water supply or surrounding lands are significant. DEP may also be named an “Interested Agency” for those projects not requiring DEP approval but which may affect City-owned watershed properties. DEP monitors the SEQRA status of all projects in the watershed to ensure that water quality concerns are properly raised and thoroughly addressed.