3:00pm

Fri June 17, 2011
Politics

NYS legislature passes limits on water usage

In the final frenzy of the legislative session, New York's Senate has passed one of the environmental community's top priorities.

The new Water Resources Protection Act, also known as the "water withdrawal" bill, will require anyone who wants to take more than 100,000 gallons from the state's waterways to get a permit.

The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which will administer the permits, wrote the legislation.
 

DEC spokesperson Emily DeSantis said the bill's passage would help to "even the regulatory playing field," by establishing uniform state-wide standards.

"DEC proposed this legislation to bring New York into compliance with the Great Lakes Basin Compact and update current statutes to make them more in line with those of other states."

Currently, most of New York uses riparian rights - meaning property owners bordering waterways have rights to the adjacent waterfronts.

Dave Gahl, with Environmental Advocates of New York called it a "significant step forward" to protect the state’s water resources.

"This is a protective measure to better regulate withdrawals from the state's resources," said Gahl.

He said the rules would likely impact large users such as power plants, major manufacturers and bottling operations. The legislation could also apply to large golf courses, but apparently not small ones.

Gas drilling

But let's face it - every piece of environmental news in New York State eventually comes back to the Marcellus Shale, and this is no exception. The legislation will also apply to gas drillers, who use millions of gallons of water in high-volume horizontal hydrofracking of gas wells.

That process is currently on hold as the state writes the rules that will regulate the process.

But Eric Goldstein of the Natural Resources Defense Council says the bill, which has been in the works for five years, was not designed to block gas drilling.

"Gas drilling operations would, however, be required to obtain permits if they are withdrawing more than 100,000 gallons per day ... And the new law would impose some tough requirements that must be met before permits are issued."

Jim Smith, a spokesman for the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York State, appears to concur. He says his organization thinks the legislation is "probably a good idea," and notes that water withdrawals are already regulated under the well permitting process for gas drilling.

The legislation does not impose fees, which drew the ire of Watkins Glen anti-fracking group, Coalition to Protect New York, in the lead-up to the vote.

Robert Sweeney was the bill's sponsor in the Assembly, which passed the measure this week. Sweeney's office says the bulk of the legislation will take effect in February of 2012.

The bill still has to be signed by the governor though, to become law. A spokesman for the governor tells the Innovation Trail that the bill hasn't yet been delivered, and couldn't say whether or not the governor would sign it.