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The Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group’s Water Quality/Technical Committee met on Tuesday, October 7, 2019, at Mary Star of the Sea, 41 1st Street.

CAG Members present:

Diane Buxbaum
Marlene Donnelly
Katia Kelly
Richard Lawrence
Amy Motzny
Peter Reich
Maryann Young
Susan Yung

Guests (via conference call):

Heidi Dubeck (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Section Chief, Remediation)
Aaron Fischer (NYSDEC)
Ed Hampsten (NYSDEC)

CAG: Reclassification petition – what would make one most successful or competitive? 

NYSDEC, Ed: Some of what NYSDEC shared is basic information to give some background. One of the other documents to recommend is the annual compliance report for the SPDES program. Water management cycle. The relationship between various groups and what the function of the program is. Bureau of Water Compliance has statewide implementation so discharges: storm/waste. In particular, one unit deals with NYC compliance – DEP. We administer the CSO order for general compliance for the plants. 

CAG: A lot of us have been involved with water in the neighborhood for 20 years. Can you explain what happened to Gary Klein? 

NYSDEC: In April 2018, Ed moved over and then took over as Gary’s supervisor. Ryan Walder – chief of Metropolitan compliance section. Large portion is NYC related. Linda Allen now works for Ryan. 

CAG: We sent a resolution passed back in 2012 calling for reclassification that has gone to your division repeatedly. Do you have an explanation why we haven’t received an answer to that? 

NYSDEC: They handle monitoring lakes and streams, water quality improvement, standards and classifications are within that unit. 20,000 different waterbodies and waterbody segments across the state – [the Gowanus is] probably one or two of the bodies classified within the system. Reclassification would require NYS rule making process – within a year, you’re doing pretty well. It takes years to gather information. Ultimately you get approval and establish your rule. 

CAG: This is the same information we received in 2013. It’s now six years later and there hasn’t been any movement. We’re trying to understand how a community hasn’t budged an inch on your end. We don’t know how it’s going to get started. 

CAG: Especially when we don’t get acknowledgement of the receipt of the request. 

NYSDEC: There are 20,000 waterbodies we take care of.

CAG: Are there any waterbodies that contact you as often and for as long as we have? 

NYSDEC: We have to address those within the entire program. When you look at Gowanus, it is one of 20,000 waterbodies, it is typically done with much larger waterbodies and would be integrated with others.

CAG: Long time resolution, ten years on CAG. Can only repeat – your agency had three months to send a rep and your agency did not do that. I think you missed an opportunity here. Here we are on a Monday, we’re volunteers. You have so many and we are only asking for one. We as citizens are entitled to a clean water body according to the Clean Water Act, and this area is very dense, and if there are 20,000 new residents and the rezoning goes through, there’s going to be a really polluted Gowanus. Please, it is not industrial anymore, and stop stalling the process. 

CAG: Two points: 1) This is a body of water that has potential and visibility more than the other 19,999 because of the historic issues causing the problems that are now being remediated. If you think about public relations or communications, this has a spotlight on it. Regardless of the history, how can you help us understand, and given the activities? 

CAG: The concern is going through this process of petitioning is going through this again for a year, if we’re going to be in a queue of 20,000 waterbodies, but we should have been in line long ago. State didn’t endorse class SD. Here we are 15 years later and we still have a water body with no limits to pathogens. 

CAG: Are there ways we can gain additional support? How can we expedite this process, it is really timely? There are going to be thousands of new residents. We’re seeking counsel on what you think is helpful for us to move forward? 

NYSDEC: There are pathogen standards for an SD waterbody. An important part, and what standards is saying, what difference it is going to make. The waterbody classification. It is class D right now. Some people call it one, some call it I. Look at the differences and compare to what you want, and examples of those waterbodies. I come from compliance and the CSO plan. To improve water quality, DEP is taking on projects as actions that are resulting in improved water quality. Reclassification tells us what the best use is and what else is suitable. There are pathogen standards. Other standards are pH, dissolved oxygen, 6 NYCRR Chapter X, part 703.

The current standard is a limiting threshold. Look at the actual standards. 73.4 is pathogen standard. Very little between classification standard and pathogen standards. Fecal coliform same standard for I as SD. The primary difference between 1 and D is D is focused on class D based on survival vs. propagation of fish. To improve that waterbody for fish survival. Is it even possible – going to have to consult with marine resources, Fish and Wildlife. Is it possible to achieve a different standard and take that into account? 

CAG: We recently did a bio-blitz, and we found an astounding number of species, and all ages. Finding ways to support this ecology is important, especially as dredging and capping and construction happens. Is proof of that helpful for the reclassification petition?

NYSDEC: Often a D-classification is related to the intermittent nature of a water body. It may not be able to constantly engage with propagation – good to get Fish and Wildlife’s input. Then we go back and look at previous classifications and reasons why. 

CAG: With Steve Whitehouse, Army Corps was in, there was a lot of data and the use was that there was still barging on the canal. We’re canoeing here, we’re in the waterway. How do we write a proposal that says we’re changing the classification because this is no longer used.

NYSDEC: Surveys of aquatic life, data/reports would give those groups more to go on to help make their decision for a reclassification. 

CAG: Waterfront Alliance has some good stats on how the waterway is being used. 

NYSDEC: Leverage, yes, that would be useful. We’re talking about data about the waterbody. You want to focus on what you’re going to get out of the reclassification. Most of the changes you’re going to get in a standard are not necessarily associated with recreational use, but more like dissolved oxygen, pH, improvements related to aquatic life. This is just giving it another classification. Ultimately it is other things. 

CAG: How does changing the water classification change the long-term control plan, and work as a way to get the City to address water quality issues?

NYSDEC: Superfund had a plan for CSOs. This would apply for wherever – the changes applied in the remedy, there’s the change that happens and then the aftermath when you look to see couldn’t there still be more. Could happen with or without the change in classification, but if you had the classification, it might result in some changed standards. They are currently in the LTCP as SD, so you’d have to determine what impact that had. 

CAG: So there’s going to be land use action that is going to affect the northern end of the canal, the LTCP did not address/plan for that rezoning, because we need the additional CSOs to change the canal. 

Projected about a 75% reduction in CSO volume. Don’t know that it would have that large of an impact even if that was accounted for. Not sure there’s a huge connection between the LTCP, the reclassification, redevelopment. 

CAG: My understanding is the Clean Water Act is passed through the state, and NY then passes the laws on the state and the only institutional controls on the state are not just about fish habitat. Can you point me to the standard that shows things about standards apart from fish? 

NYSDEC: TMDL list given the rezoning. If I’m wrong about reclassification, the waterbody classification is going to tie you to standards that need to be met. There are requirements from NYCDEP on the CSO program. 

CAG: We understand that is how the quality is met, which is why we’re talking about a better standard. The fact that those CSO controls are in place. 

NYSDEC: The classification controls what set of standards apply, and any discharges apply. 

CAG: As a community, is it right to say our water quality standard is at a certain level? 

CAG: How are classifications enforced? Are they idealistic or regulatory? What role does the state play? Will it help us achieve a higher quality of water in the canal? I think it is the tool that sets the standard of what else happens with CSOs. Our dissolved oxygen level was below standard, the state told NYC to do something, and that’s why they’re doing something about the Flushing Tunnel. It is not an industrial canal, if we fall in, at what standard will we be okay? 

CAG: The viability was pegged on aquatic habitats? 

NYSDEC: Between I and SD, that is.

CAG: So fish propagation is the standard, but recreation doesn’t count?

CAG: Recreational is the next standard, it moves up and up and up. 

CAG: If you lived in an area with a canal, what should we make the classification be? What is ideal, what would be the best classification in your opinion, turning it into real estate nirvana. 

NYSDEC: We’re here to talk about the program. There are C & D standards in many communities. A is near drinking water. Look at the standards and what they really mean. What you want to drive is to improve the water quality. 

CAG: In the long run we’re looking for an assurance that there are no new pathogens. We have the highest rate of antibiotic proof. We need institutional measures in place to keep it from being third-world. 

CAG: I’m a little distressed we never received a response saying DEC received the correspondence. Is there a way to acknowledge it? I’m hoping somebody in your office will be able to acknowledge that we are requesting something. 

NYSDEC: I tried to give you information on the program. It isn’t a normal process that we’d reach out. 

CAG: Just acknowledge the receipt of the request so that it shows that we’re trying. It would have been nice to know. 

CAG: Can you give us a detailed understanding of what happens to an application like this when it is submitted? 

NYSDEC: It’s not directed to my program. 

CAG: We’re trying to prevent it from falling through the cracks. Any information about who would be handling this is helpful. 

NYSDEC: Look at the website. 

CAG: [The website] doesn’t give much information for the community. We want to put something together, and gain information and support. 

NYSDEC: Watershed Assessment and Management – Jackie Lendrum. 

CAG: Understanding the difference between SD and I would be helpful. Any other resources you can forward, and if you’re able to, provide a contact and start to send acknowledgements of requests, right?

NYSDEC: Ed will make sure they send information and Ed will send it back to the CAG. He’s not sure of what record the last items were. If you can let me know when they went in. 

I see a list of things that were attached but I don’t know that they pertained to us. 


What is the difference between a bureau of compliance and a bureau of water assessment and management?

Might be worth involving Jo Anne Simon. 

Chicago River was reclassified by the EPA. State was being ridiculous and EPA reclassified and made it happen. These are the standards we want, and let’s get to them. 

Let’s FOIA the Bureau and find out how many petitions they actually receive. 1-10 years. 

Amy will work on the petition, make it very robust, worms and life from Army Corps, lots of attachments, range of data. Put together a whole package. Some formal and some community, and make a case of what is being strongly advocated for. 

May want to ask what are the written procedures for the petition?

Do we want to go to [classification standard] I? What I heard is that I isn’t appropriate for recreational use? We’re shooting for boating. Different than canoeing which is contact recreation, because water going into the canal is I, it is a dream to want.

There’s a difference in the way sampling is done for classification; the city moved it so on the East River, they now test furthest from any point of CSO discharge. People have said it is not protective of health. It allowed them to make it seem cleaner. 

Can’t Riverkeeper help? Yes, Mike will be helpful.

Next steps: contact Jo Anne Simo, FOIA, work survey, contact Jackie Lendrum.

It is not up to them to decide, it is government bureaucrats, our elected execute this. It is up to us and Velmanette Montgomery and Jo Anne Simon. 

What’s the rulemaking process deal? It all has to go out for public comment. It will go through a process.

The Flushing Tunnel is down so they can stop the foaming. We never received anything from DEP. As a waterbody, even meeting class SD is completely dependent on a piece of infrastructure. 10 to 12 weeks down. If there were fish, they’re gonna be starved for that span. It is a chronic problem of the whole scenario. What we actually need is a really higher quality so when this does happen, the fish population doesn’t plummet. 

If by December 17 (12 weeks from October 1, 2019), CAG hasn’t heard/ observed the tunnel working again without word from DEP, we should request information/status and push. 

Apparently someone was excavating on Carroll Street and threw the dirt in the gutter. Fine of only $1,000 to $2,000. If that’s going to happen as part of construction typically (or with new rezoning), it will impact the capping. Eymund counted the bacteria; count was much higher. He tests at Carroll Street Bridge. Would be nice to see what the count is right at Lightstone. 

That afternoon after the mud outflow it rained. Funnily enough it was wet. CSO between dock of Lightstone and where the boat is, right off the bulkheads. The No Fishing signs are ready – was waiting for Christos to confirm list of sites (that CAG already sent).

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