New York Fish at Risk From Stormwater Permit, Groups Say


(CN) – Several already compromised rivers and creeks, and others “categorically off-limits to any type of pollution,” face an imminent threat, two watchdog groups claim in court, from the missteps of New York regulators.

Represented by the Super Law Group in Manhattan, the nonprofits Riverkeeper Inc. and Waterkeeper Alliance Inc. filed their April 20 petition in Albany County Supreme Court.

The suit takes issue with a stormwater-discharge permit issued by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation that implicates dirty runoff from thousands of industrial sources, including mining and leather-tanning facilities, as well as airports and landfills.

“Significantly for this petition,” the filing states, “many of the pollutants found in industrial stormwater are ‘oxygen demanding’ — i.e., they undergo chemical and biochemical reactions that take up dissolved oxygen from the water. The dissolved oxygen demanded (consumed) by these pollutants would otherwise be available to fish, shellfish, and other organisms.”

But as Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance note, many of that water-bodies that will be receiving this industrial runoff already “fail to meet New York’s water quality standards for dissolved oxygen.”

“New York’s most oxygen-impaired waters include heavily industrialized portions of the Arthur Kill, Bronx River, Hutchinson River, Mohawk River, Patroon Creek, Flushing Bay, Flushing Creek, Newton Creek, the Gowanus Canal, [and] Westchester Creek,” the petition continues.

In addition to the 69 oxygen-impaired waterbodies across the state — many of them tributaries of the New York Harbor and Long Island Sound — the petition notes that hundreds more have related impairments such as “hazardous algal blooms, that are likely to trigger low dissolved oxygen conditions.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance note are New York’s “most pristine waterbodies — those classified by the DEC as ‘AA-Special’ waters.”

“Under state law,” the petition continues, “these waters are to be categorically off-limits to any type of pollution, including industrial stormwater pollution.”

Though the permit at issue took effect on March 1, Riverkeeper and the Waterkeeper Alliance say that it should remanded under the state Environmental Conservation Law and the federal Clean Water Act.

Oxygen demand is so high in the discharges authorized under the permit, according to the petition, that they “will almost always cause or contribute to the low oxygen conditions that violate water-quality standards and render these waters inimical to fish and other aquatic life.”

“These discharges assure that water quality standards will be violated, not complied with,” the petition continues (emphasis in original).

Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance call the permit’s impact “clear and indisputable.”

“This conclusion is derived from basic science and math,” the petition states.

A representatives for the DEC declined comment on the case, citing the agency’s policy for pending litigation.

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