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N.Y. makes waves with nonpoint source pollution, watershed planning and the Clean Water Act.

Great improvements to water quality have been realized since the Clean Water Act's enactment. At the same time, it is widely recognized that new clean water strategies are now required. Recent studies, both federal and others, have consistently concluded that, as industrial wastewater and municipal sewage discharges come under increasing control, pollution from nonpoint sources is now the most significant cause of water quality degradation. If the Congress does nothing else in reauthorizing the Clean Water Act, it must commit program and financial resources proportionate to the scope of the nonpoint source problem. Nonpoint pollution sources must be attacked today as aggressively as point sources have been since the enactment of the act.

The two keys to controlling nonpoint source pollution are pollution prevention and environmentally-appropriate land use management. One of the clearest lessons of the environmental movement is that it is significantly more cost effective to prevent pollution than it is to clean it up. Another lesson is that the lack of proper land use safeguards and the misuse of environment-sensitive areas are principal causes of nonpoint source pollution. No nonpoint source pollution control program will be successful without addressing these problems. Pollution prevention and environmentally-appropriate land use must be integrated with point source controls. This will require the flexibility to apply a broad array of strategies. Comprehensive, ecosystem-wide programs that address all sources of pollution and reflect the site-specific water quality needs of diverse aquatic ecosystems will achieve our water quality goals. If the main emphasis is mechanically placed on technological approaches or one-size-fits-all planning systems and best management practices, we will not only fail, but we will have misspent billions of dollars in the process.

As the Senate legislation, S 1114, recognizes in its provisions for watershed planning, these objectives require new institutional arrangements, ones that acknowledge that nonpoint source pollution control is a vital element of watershed planning. New York City has adopted a watershed-wide ecosystem planning approach that has guided the city's extensive drinking water and harbor-estuary policies. We would like to share our thoughts about how these programs fit into Congressional efforts to address nonpoint source pollution and watershed planning.

Under New York state law, New York City may develop and enforce regulations in its two upstate watersheds--the Croton and Catskill-Delaware system--which encompass 19 reservoirs and over 1900 square miles, an area nearly the size of Delaware. These watersheds are the source of drinking water for nine million consumers each day--about half New York state's population. Nearly one million of these consumers reside upstate, while the remaining 8 million reside or work in New York City. The city's drinking water supply is of such exceptionally high quality that it often wins contests. To protect this rich natural bounty, we have worked in cooperation with the state, local upstate governments and citizens, to implement a comprehensive watershed protection plan.

In developing its comprehensive watershed protection strategy, the city has emphasized two fundamental ingredients. First, wherever appropriate, the city's watershed protection plans reflect the view that the best management of the land and water resources encompassing major drainage systems will occur not through fiat but with the active participation and cooperation of states, localities, regulated entities and citizens. Second, the city is focusing on pollution prevention and reduction, rather than regulation for its own sake. Thus, the city is pursuing a program whereby its regulatory structure sets the environmental targets but can be administered flexibly--or even waived--if the city's environmental objectives can be more readily or less onerously achieved through locally-based nonregulatory approaches.

The city's revised and enhanced watershed regulations place stringent controls on septic tank installations, stormwater and wastewater treatment plant discharges, development in environmental-sensitive areas, the storage of petroleum and hazardous materials, the use of pesticides and fertilizers, the disposal of snow, and the protection of stream corridors through vegetative buffer zones and other means.

A similar regulatory structure was considered for agriculture. These proposals were met with immediate and vociferous resistance from the farm community, which claimed that the draft regulations would drive many farms out of business. Recognizing that good farming techniques can both preserve land and yield economic benefit, the city, with the assistance of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets as facilitator, created a watershed agricultural task force to review the city's draft watershed regulations. After a year of discussion and mutual education, the task force, which was comprised of farmers and representatives of local and city government, agreed on a watershed agriculture strategy with the following key components:

* Withdrawal of the city's draft agriculture regulations, except for provisions against willfull polluters and increased pollution loading, and substitution of the regulations with a "Whole Farm Planning" program. Whole Farm Planning involves the analysis of pollution sources and the development of plans to implement best management practices uniquely tailored to fit each farm's topographical conditions and business practice. These activities are conducted by a county project team comprised of local farm institutions;

* Targeted city funding of the programs and best management practices, beyond any cost-sharing programs available through Soil and Water Conservation Districts;

* Voluntary participation by individual farmers, coupled with a pledge by watershed agricultural leaders that unless 85 percent farmer participation is obtained within five years, the city can reinstate agricultural regulations. The program is to be formally evaluated in 1977;

* Establishment of a Watershed Agricultural Council representing state, city, local government agencies, and the farm community, to monitor and assist the program;

* Development by Cornell University water quality and agricultural experts of new best management practices specifically targeted to Safe Drinking Water Act concerns, such as pathogen control.

Today, thanks to Whole Farm Planning, watershed farmers and the city area enjoying the first collaborative relationship in a hundred years. The Agricultural Council meets on a regular basis, and Phase I of the projects, involving ten pilot farms and the development of a new set of best management practices to control pathogens, is well underway.

We can share three lessons from the program to date. First, to reiterate, be firm with goals but flexible as to means. It has been the willingness of the farm community to accept the city's water quality goals that has enabled the city to allow the proposal of a locally-managed program to attain those goals. Second, local stakeholder leadership is crucial. Third, bringing together diverse stakeholders, often with conflicting interest, requires defusing rhetoric and establishing a common language. For example, farmers were absolutely determined that the program should be voluntary. Environmentalists and regulators believed a voluntary program would fail to produce sufficient progress. In the end, we resolved this conflict by recognizing the legitimacy of both perspectives. Thus, as I described earlier, the program is voluntary but sets an overall participation goal of 85 percent that the farm community has agreed to attain.

The success to date of Whole Farm Planning has sparked broader discussions between the city and a quasi-governmental organization of watershed community leaders, known as the Coalition of Watershed Towns. Several working groups within the committee are examining a variety of issues and methods of city- watershed town collaboration. From these discussions a new concept, called "Whole Community Planning," has emerged. Whole Community Planning involves local watershed communities, often ones that have been resistant to zoning and other planning initiatives historically, in charting environmentally-appropriate growth and protecting local water resources from pollution and the perils of unrestrained development.

In return for the active participation of these communities, the city is considering providing assistance to communities with approved whole community plans meeting specified environmental criteria, such as variances from certain otherwise applicable regulations and funding for certain of the best management practices or infrastructure improvements that approved plans may prescribe. Many of these improvements will benefit both water quality and local communities simultaneously. Although Whole Community Planning is in its early stages--five towns have either received start-up funding or signed on as pilot towns--its great potential is apparent.

In connection with Whole Community Planning, the city is involved in a range of other collaborative projects. We are working on programs to clean and upgrade private septic systems and to arrange septage disposal at strategically-located treatment plants throughout the watershed. The city is also working with local environmentalists and anglers to promote stream corridor protection through streamside planting, and with local schools in stream monitoring projects.

We believe that collaborative efforts that protect both water quality and local interests, such as Whole Farm Planning and Whole Community Planning, can be the future of watershed planning and nonpoint source pollution control.

New York City strongly endorses S 1114's emphasis on watershed planning and controlling nonpoint source pollution.

* To be truly effective, the act's watershed planning provisions should set forth a process that emphasizes site-specific management strategies and enables maximum organizational flexibility. We must encourage local initiative and be wary of processes that simply repackage current water pollution control policies and procedures under a more attractive name or that turn watershed planning into an additional bureaucratic process and leave the act's current point source biases in place. If we fail to be bold and innovative, decisions will continue to be made in a rigid, top-down manner and opportunities for truly effective collaborations, based on mutual interests, will be lost. In addition, consistent with site-specific watershed planning, the act should allow flexibility in the attainment of water quality standards. In some instances, for example, ten years may be too little time; in others, too much time.

* We support S 1114's mix of economic incentives with enforcement mechanisms, i.e., linking grant and loan eligibility to the development of plans and requiring the use of BMPs when plans are not approved. We believe the combination of nonregulatory with regulatory approaches is yielding the most effective results in New York City's watershed protection efforts and should be followed, to the extent possible, on the national level.

* As the recent outbreak of cryptosporidiosis in Milwaukee demonstrated--an outbreak that affected hundreds of thousands--the need to protect the nation's drinking water supplies cannot be overstated. Although more stringent drinking water regulations have emerged in response to public health concerns about toxics and microbial pathogens, the Clean Water Act's policies have failed to keep pace. One of the most pressing challenges facing the Congress, therefore, is to harmonize the Clean Water Act's and the Safe Drinking Water Act's policies.

* Watershed management should be aimed not simply at the attainment of water quality standards in the water column but at use impairments and the development of strategies that will protect and restore whole ecosystems, including wetlands and coastal habitats. The act must pay much more attention to land- water interaction, to littoral zone preservation, and to expanding public access to our nation's waters.

* The proper maintenance and operation of individual subsurface disposal systems is crucial to the overall control of nonpoint source pollutant contributions to surface drinking water supplies, such as New York's Particularly in economically distressed rural communities, but also in older town centers and more urbanized areas of our watershed, we've found that failed and poorly maintained septic systems are a major threat to water quality. These communities need technical, administrative and financial assistance in establishing septic maintenance districts and remediation programs. The amendment to section 319 relating to Subsurface Sewage Disposal is long overdue.

* The act should provide enough flexibility to enable watershed decisionmaking that can direct resources where they will yield the greatest return, whether on anti-degradation measures to protect pristine waters or on pollution controls for waters with the greatest use impairments.

* Effective control of nonpoint source pollution requires a greater understanding of nonpoint sources. A serious, federally- assisted research effort is needed in order to improve nonpoint source monitoring techniques and to develop reliable, accurate methods of predicting the effectiveness of various nonpoint source management techniques.

* New York City strongly supports maximizing linkages and coordination between the Clean Water Act and related federal statutes, including the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, Soil and Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act, the Food Security Act of 1985, the Clean Air Act and, as stated above, the Safe Drinking Water Act.

* The act should expand on the progress that has been made under the National Estuary Plan of 1987. New York City urges Congress to support the important regional and local estuary planning efforts now in development. Efforts under section 320 should receive funding for implementation.
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Title Annotation:New York, New York
Author:Appleton, Albert F.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Sep 13, 1993
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