In the News: Veggies on Wheels, Gowanus as Model for Idyllic Sustainability, and More.

Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale: Big Oil & Bad Air on the Texas Prairie

An eight-month investigation into the public health consequences of unmitigated oil and gas industry sprawl in Texas. [Inside Climate News]

The Once and Future Gowanus

The environmental remediation that the canal will require has paradoxically elevated Gowanus as a hope for idyllic sustainability. [The New York Times]

For a Strong Economy in the Face of Future Storms, Cities Need Resiliency Innovation

By finding and funding commercially-ready technologies that are not yet widely in use locally, RISE : NYC will install solutions at vulnerable locations to make building systems, energy infrastructure and telecommunications more resilient. [Breaking Energy]

Governor Cuomo Announces $30 Million to Preserve Open Space in New York as Part of Port Authority’s Hudson-Raritan Estuary Resource Program

The Hudson-Raritan Estuary Resource Program funds will preserve open space habitat and wetlands along the Hudson River and help to ensure the region’s long-term quality of life. [Governor Cuomo’s Office]

It Takes How Much Water to Grow an Almond?! Why California’s drought is a disaster for your favorite fruits, vegetables, and nuts

California, supplier of nearly half of all US fruits, veggies, and nuts, is on track to experience the driest year in the past half millennium. Farms use about 80 percent of the state’s “developed water,” or water that’s moved from its natural source to other areas via pipes and aqueducts. [Mother Jones]

Fresh Produce Comes to the Bronx via a Veggie Mart on Wheels 

If Manhattan and Brooklyn have treat trucks dispensing gourmet bites on street corners, the South Bronx also has a food mobile of its own: one that delivers fruits and vegetables straight from the farm to the tables of the poor and struggling. [The New York Times]

In Web Video, Astorino Pitches Hydrofracking

“Saying that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has committed a “dereliction of duty” by not allowing hydrofracking in the state’s Southern Tier, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino in web video says he would allow the controversial natural-gas process to move forward if elected governor.” [NY State of Politics]

Shoddy Public Housing Boilers Cost City $1 Million a Month

The 26 temporary boilers the New York City Housing Authority installed in 16 housing projects after Sandy are costing the city $1 million a month each to rent, according to NYCHA testimony at a City Council hearing Thursday in Coney Island. [WNYC]

Rockaway Pipeline Receives Key Approval Today

View a larger version of this map here.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released its final Environmental Assessment of the multi-part Rockaway Pipeline project today.

As expected, agency reviewers determined that “approval of the Projects would have some adverse environmental impacts, but these impacts would be reduced to less-than-significant levels.”

Based on the determination of its reviewers, the full Commission is expected to vote to authorize the project.

The complex project has attracted considerable attention from community organizations because of its location within a national park, its proximity to marine life, and the vulnerability of the Rockaway coastline to catastrophic storms.

The anchor element of the project is a new 3-mile feeder line off the Rockaway coast which Oklahoma-based Williams Companies will connect to its existing 10,500 mile Transco Pipeline. The Transco pipeline runs all the way from Texas to the New York-New Jersey area.

The new feeder line will travel along the ocean floor toward Jacob Riis Park, and then underneath it, delivering gas to new mains below Jamaica Bay. Those mains have been completed by National Grid.

In a later phase of construction, National Grid will connect its new cross-Bay lines to customers in Brooklyn and Queens via a new gas meter and regulating station to be housed within a historic hangar at Floyd Bennett Field. Gas entering the meter station will eventually link to an existing gas main on Flatbush Avenue.

The 60,000 square foot meter station at Floyd Bennett Field will also be constructed by Williams.

Impact on Rockaway Coast & Marine Life

There is extensive marine wildlife in the vicinity of the pipeline project, ranging from large mammals, such as seals and dolphins, to various types of plankton that feed other marine species. Finfish like the Atlantic sturgeon; shellfish; “benthic organisms” like clams, crabs, starfish, and coral; and marine turtles like the leatherback can all be found in the area.

The coastal area adjacent to Jacob Riis Park, where the pipeline is to be constructed, is an Essential Fish Habitat.

FERC stated today that offshore pipeline construction activities, “with the greatest potential” to affect marine wildlife, include “dredging and jetting, vessel anchoring, pile driving, the HDD [horizontal directional drilling], accidental spills of construction-related fluids (e.g., oil, gasoline, or hydraulic fluids), withdrawal and discharge of hydrostatic test water, and construction-related vessel traffic.”

As part of the agency’s approval, Williams must agree to a series of mitigation steps before it begins construction, such as hiring a full-time environmental inspector that is “empowered to order correction of acts that violate the environmental conditions of the [FERC’s] Order, and any other authorizing document.”

Williams must also supply detailed information on the drilling fluid that it will use along the ocean floor, including an evaluation “of the toxicity of each additive…[and]…the potential for bioaccumulation of each additive in the food chain.”

FERC noted that other reviews of the project are still pending, including evaluations by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

News Analysis: More Urgency Needed on Mayor’s Rebuilding & Climate Resilience Plan

Tuesday, we ran a piece describing Mayor de Blasio’s visit to Staten Island, the New York City borough which suffered the most devastating loss of life during Superstorm Sandy.

It’s worth reiterating that Staten Island’s new borough president, James Oddo, is deeply concerned about future storms and the island’s vulnerability to them,  especially along the south and eastern shores. And the borough president is anxious to proceed with re-thinking the design of some of the island’s coastal communities while there is still time.

The concern expressed by the Mayor about communities recovering from Sandy is no doubt real. But he is beginning to show what seems like a surprising lack of urgency, especially given what New York City is facing.

Almost two months into de Blasio’s tenure as mayor, the team that will coordinate both the city’s rebuilding and climate change planning efforts has not been finalized.

A Looming Threat

As far as we know, there is still no leadership structure in place for tackling what some of the city’s own scientists have said is the biggest threat to New York City’s existence.

…there is still no leadership structure in place for tackling what some of the city’s own scientists have said is the biggest threat to New York City’s existence

Consider this: projections released by the New York City Panel on Climate Change in 2013 stated that by the 2050’s, sea level in the area is projected to rise 11 to 24 inches (middle range) and 31 inches (high estimate). Sections of Staten Island are already below sea-level now.

Every inch of sea level rise means a greater possibility of devastating storm surges striking New Dorp Beach, the Rockaways or Red Hook.

The Mayor has indicated that he agrees with much of what was proposed by former Mayor Bloomberg’s post-Sandy resiliency plan. But we don’t know what of the over 250 possible measures he supports and what he does not.

For instance, the plan proposes the construction of an enormous residential and commercial development on the East Side of Lower Manhattan -Seaport City- that would also serve as a “protective barrier” to sea level rise.

The local community board that represents the area has raised numerous questions about the project and says the city should focus first on protecting the community’s most vulnerable residents, especially those living in public housing.

What does the Mayor think about Seaport City? We know that he met with the Real Estate Board of New York on February 19th, but, as Capital New York reporter Dana Rubinstein noted, that meeting was closed to the media. REBNY’s members would almost certainly have opinions about the project.

What’s the Plan?

We also know that the Mayor wants to build on PlaNYC, Mayor Bloomberg’s multi-pronged sustainability plan, which was created to help the city plan for a million new residents by 2030. Like the SIRR plan, PlaNYC is a gargantuan document. It advocates, for instance, the city’s increased use of natural gas as a power source.

De Blasio has expressed major reservations about the extraction process for natural gas. And the New York Times reported recently on a new study showing methane leakage is a larger problem than originally thought.

It may very well be that natural gas’ benefits still outweigh the risks, but methane’s impact on the climate is a relevant question right now for a coastal city facing the dual challenge of locating sustainable energy sources and confronting rising sea levels.

In short, time is of the essence. We need to clarify how exactly we are rebuilding from Sandy, and what our priorities are as we confront climate change.

Farm Bill a Mixed Bag, But Mostly Good for Conservation

A multi-year “food-fight” over a nearly $1 trillion piece of legislation has finally ended, resulting in a bipartisan Farm Bill that is mostly good news for New York’s environment.

The final bill, which cuts $23 billion (or slightly more than 2 percent) from the overall budget, still includes $57 billion for conservation-related programs. While this represents a decrease of about $6 billion from 2008 levels, it is the first time since the original farm bill in 1933 that funding devoted to conservation has exceeded expenditures earmarked for commodity subsidies (crops like corn, soybeans, and wheat).

The final bill still includes $57 billion for conservation-related programs.

Indeed, it’s often overlooked that the Farm Bill is, by far, our nation’s largest investment in the conservation and management of private lands. With 36,000 farms in New York State, and roughly half of the contiguous U.S. under some form of agricultural usage (crop, pasture, range), these programs have incredible reach and the potential to impact a huge swath of New York farmland.

Coming in at 949 pages, the Farm Bill isn’t exactly a quick read. Just in case you haven’t had time to pore over the entire thing, we’ve hand-picked what we think you should know about conservation programs in the Farm Bill—both the good and the not-so-good.

The Good:

If the two-year struggle leading up to the bill’s signing seemed contentious, the reaction to the final version was not any less combative. For the most part, though, conservationists were pleased—enough so that The Nature Conservancy and more than 230 other organizations came together to support its passage. Some of the wins for the environment include:

  • Local Food Systems: The bill invests heavily in the development, growth, and expansion of local and regional foods—good news for New York farms (and those who support them). Programs like the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion, Community Food Projects, and Specialty Crop Block Grants all received steady or increased funding. The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program, essential to the future of New York’s farming community, received $100 million in funding.
  • Increasing Organics: Also included is significant support for organic agriculture research and a program that helps farmers offset the costs of organic certification, something that is “particularly important to the small-scale farmers in New York State,” said Elizabeth Henderson, co-chair of the Policy Committee for the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), in conversation with NYER. “That money really enables smaller farms to remain certified organic.”
  • More Maple: Finally, the bill includes a $20 million grant program for research and expansion of maple tapping, thanks to the work of New York Senator Chuck Schumer. New York currently taps less than one percent of the state’s nearly 300 million maple trees, forcing the U.S. to import four times as much maple syrup as it produces.

The Not-So-Good

Of course in a bill this vast there are bound to be problems. For starters, a controversial $8 billion cut to food stamp programs means 300,000 low-income households in New York will have less money for food each month. Other, more conservation-related let-downs include:

  • Reducing the Reserve: In addition to cutting $6 billion out of the conservation budget, the new Farm Bill also cuts the acreage of the Conservation Reserve Program from 32 million to 24 million. This program encourages landowners to take sensitive lands out of production and plant them in grass, and is estimated to save 450 million tons of soil from erosion each year.
  • Dairy Disappointment: Dairy farmers in New York and the Northeast were frustrated to see the Dairy Market Stabilization Program removed from the final bill. The provision was designed to reduce milk production when prices drop, preventing a market glut and pricing free-fall. House Speaker John Boehner called the program “Soviet-style” and blocked its inclusion. Bob Wellington, dairy economist at the milk cooperative Agri-Mark, lamented the loss: “We had a program that was going to save money [and] work better in the marketplace.”
  • Sticky Subsidies: While the bill does put an end to controversial direct payments, it expands crop insurance programs which many believe are not much better. These programs pay farmers up to $100,000 when they experience a crop failure, and generally go to the largest commodity farms. Ferd Hoefner, Policy Director with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), described the move this way: “At a time of fiscal restraint, growing income inequality, and economic distress in rural communities, it is appalling for the new farm bill to continue uncapped, unlimited commodity and crop insurance subsidies for mega-farms.”

What’s Next

The relief that surrounds the passage of the Farm Bill is palpable among conservationists, farmers, and lawmakers alike. And while conservation initiatives seemed to win in 2014, sustainable agriculture groups will stay vigilant with their eyes focused on future Farm Bill debates.

“The process that went on for this is so dysfunctional and so far from actually developing a program for healthy food and agriculture for the whole United States. It makes you want to tear your hair out,” lamented Elizabeth Henderson of NOFA.

“We are pleased that the bill renews support for innovative programs that invest in the next generation of farmers, the growth of local and organic agriculture, and economic opportunity in rural communities,” said Ariane Lotti, Assistant Policy Director with NSAC, in a statement. “We do not endorse the process that has led to completion of this farm bill nor do we think it represents the 21st century policy we need to support a sustainable farm and food system.”

De Blasio: City Needs Resilience Planning that is Tied to Social Equity

Mayor de Blasio was on Staten Island yesterday, meeting with local elected officials about the island’s recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and its vulnerability to rising sea levels. “We know that there are tens of thousands of people in this city still feeling the effects of Sandy very sharply,” said the Mayor.

And the Mayor reiterated earlier statements that rebuilding efforts needed to be tied to broader goals, such as expanding access to city services and economic opportunity.

“Some of the communities that were affected [by Sandy] have been…neglected for decades. And never got the infrastructure they should have gotten in the first place. And if this is a moment for us to do something about that…for us to start to right some of those historic wrongs, we have to take it,” De Blasio argued.

The Mayor said that this philosophy applied as much to public housing residents in the Rockaways as it did to residents of Staten Island’s working class bungalow communities.

“It’s about taking a moment of crisis, trying to find the transformative possibilities within it, taking the resources that are coming in, and…saying what is the most we can get out of these resources that will leave people in better shape?” explained the Mayor.

Twenty-two of the twenty-three Sandy-related deaths on Staten Island occurred on its East and South shores. And while the East Shore, for example, is one of the areas in New York City most vulnerable to extreme weather and rising sea levels, it has suffered from flooding for decades, because of a lack of proper planning by the city and inattention to the area’s location and natural topography.

Originally a “vast swath” of marshes and swamps, development on the East Shore “far outpaced the construction of critical infrastructure like storm sewers,” said Carter Strickland, the outgoing commissioner of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Re-thinking the Bloomberg Administration’s Rebuilding and Resiliency Plan

For the first time yesterday, the Mayor outlined the process that will guide his administration’s development of a rebuilding and resiliency plan for New York City.

“Going forward we have a whole series of very complicated things that we have to address,” the Mayor said. “We’ve got important parts of infrastructure, where we are still as susceptible today as we were two years ago…where generators are still in the basement, where all sorts of fundamental physical realities are just as vulnerable as they were.”

De Blasio said that economic security is part of developing truly sustainable communities. “We have people in areas…that have been in many ways left behind for many, many decades. We have to try to create better and more sustainable housing and economic opportunities for them,” the Mayor declared.

De Blasio said he “commended” the Bloomberg administration’s resiliency plan “because I thought it was realistic. It depended on a number of measures that we can take in the short term”. He added that he also wanted to focus on “smart longer-term solutions like restoring wetlands, for example, which are an organic solution and a proven solution.”

The administration’s task is two-fold: both to develop a workable plan that addresses the thousands of New Yorkers who remain displaced by Sandy; and prepare for future impacts of climate change.

We know it’s going to take so much work to really get everyone whole and then to really make these neighborhoods strong and resilient going forward.

“Our job is to line them [rebuilding and resiliency needs] up…figure out where the resources are, what red tape we have to cut to get the resources in play, how to maximize the economic benefit it would have to the people who were affected…and just as quickly as possible, move each piece in a logical progression. That’s the way our game plan will look,” said the Mayor.

“We know it’s going to take so much work to really get everyone whole and then to really make these neighborhoods strong and resilient going forward. This is work we’ll be at together for years,” added de Blasio.

De Blasio said that City Hall would release a plan to move forward “in the next few weeks…I don’t think at this moment we have a clear starting point for that public discussion, and that’s our responsibility to put forward”.

Staten Island Pushes for A New Vision of Sustainability

But it was obvious yesterday that local leaders on Staten Island want to move forward immediately. Staten Island’s new borough president, James Oddo, is pushing the Mayor, arguing that the city should buy-out residents in some of Staten Island’s most vulnerable communities.

Oddo said that it was unlikely that the Cuomo administration would be providing more money for buy-outs, or that entire neighborhoods would be “seeded back to mother nature.”

But, he said, the city could confirm which residents remain serious about wishing to be bought-out. Using that information, swaths of contiguous property could eventually be acquired which would provide “a blank slate” for “smart” re-development. “And that means a different type of housing stock. That means putting in real infrastructure,” said Oddo.

Oddo believes the situation in Staten Island’s coastal neighborhoods is challenging but not untenable. “These folks live…on streets that are three or four or five feet below sea level…Any rain, they’re under water. [But] it’s a good place to live with the right infrastructure.”

The strategy proposed by Oddo, “Acquisition for Re-Development”, “gives help,” he said, “in the form of money, to people as quickly as possible, and it gives government a chance to…take a step back and figure out, how do we redevelop this property to create a better housing stock, to create a better community.” The borough president said this was a more forward-thinking and comprehensive solution than “doing one-offs– this bungalow here, that house there.”

De Blasio was enthusiastic but non-committal. “I am not ready to endorse a specific plan”, said the Mayor, “but I think it would be very healthy…to have a debate about where we’re going, and I think that’s one of the ideas that has to be on the table.”

Oddo observed that he was “dealing with some of the sins of the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s here on Staten Island…I don’t want to be a part of making the mistakes that will impact the next generation.”

“We Have to Do Better”

The Mayor also acknowledged the mounting criticism of the city’s Build it Back program which channels rehab funding to Sandy victims. “It’s self evident that the pace [of the program] has been a profound problem,” de Blasio said.

Build it Back is managed by a private contractor, which received a reported fifty million dollars to administer the program. “We’re going to do a full review. That’s the whole point here,” the Mayor said.

“We know we have to do better,” de Blasio added. “It’s our obligation to put together a plan to build upon some of the things we think were done right…and address…some of the things that weren’t what they needed to be.”

De Blasio said his administration would also be announcing a new leadership structure for the city’s ongoing response to climate change.

Emily Lloyd, who ran the city’s Department of Environmental Protection from 2005 to 2009, is back at the helm at the DEP. The Mayor, when announcing her appointment last week, said that a major focus for the agency would be “infrastructure upgrades to improve our resiliency”.

It will also be Lloyd’s role, the Mayor said, “to convene public and private sector leaders to build upon the successes of PlaNYC [the Bloomberg administration’s far-reaching sustainability plan].”

“I had a lot of respect for and agreement with their plans of resiliency going forward and we’re using that as our initial blueprint,” said de Blasio. But, he added, “the response to Sandy was very uneven.”

Could de Blasio’s purported commitment to social equity impact other long-term environmental justice issues in New York City, from the siting of waste transfer stations to expanding access to open, green spaces to opening up the discussion about the city’s long-term energy strategy?

The Mayor observed when appointing Lloyd, “we also know, in everything we do, we have the potential to be the progressive leader.”

In the News: Rail Oil Concerns in Albany, Climate Resilience, and Sewers Under Assault

New York Tries to Rid Its Sewers of FOG (Fat, Oil and Grease)

Besides old age, the sewers, which are essential to the health of the city, are under assault from a nemesis above ground: grease. [The New York Times]

Rail oil shipping raises safety concerns in Albany

Over the past two years, the Port of Albany has become a major shipping point for highly explosive crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale region. Hundreds of tanker cars arrive daily on Canadian Pacific and CSX rail lines and stretch for miles along highways and through neighborhoods. [AP]

The West Virginia Oil Spill

Ken Ward Jr., writer for the Charleston Gazette on environmental issues, discusses another spill that is contaminating water in West Virginia. He explains how little we know about the chemicals and how a lack of oversight is complicating the problems. [WNYC]

Sen. Schumer calls for funding of breakwaters off Staten Island

Joined by local elected officials, Sen. Charles Schumer pushed for the approval of federal FEMA funds to install a series of off-shore breakwaters to protect the borough’s South Shore from future storms like Hurricane Sandy. []

Sandy victims unhappy with ‘Build it Back’

The city post-Hurricane Sandy recovery program “Build it Back” is doing anything but, according to many residents, civic leaders and officials in South Queens. They say the program needs to be completely revamped and needs to be placed on top of Mayor de Blasio’s priority list. [Queens Chronicle]

Con Edison to Take New Measures to Protect Against the Effects of Climate Change

“In an historic decision that will serve as a nationwide model, the New York State Public Service Commission today unanimously approved an Order requiring Con Edison to implement state-of-the-art measures to plan for and protect its electric, gas, and steam systems from the effects of climate change. [PR Newswire]

Cool Photos of the Just Rehabbed 123-Year-Old New Croton Aqueduct

New York City has released photos today of this critical—and historic—piece of our water supply infrastructure.

The city also provided some great detail on why the New Croton Aqueduct is so significant. The Department of Environmental Protection says that the $177 million rehab project is a “key milestone towards reactivation of the Croton Water Supply System, which can provide between 10 and 30 percent of the city’s daily water needs.”

More Information from the City’s Release:

The Aqueduct was originally placed into service in 1890 and is a 33-mile-long, 13-foot-diameter, brick-lined tunnel that was engineered to convey by gravity up to 290 million gallons of drinking water each day from the New Croton Reservoir in Westchester County to Jerome Park Reservoir in the Bronx.

The Aqueduct begins just below ground level and reaches a depth of roughly 400 feet.

The New Croton Aqueduct conveys water from the City’s oldest collection of upstate reservoirs in Westchester and Putnam Counties, the Croton watershed, to the in-city drinking water distribution network. For more than 150 years the system provided unfiltered drinking water to the city, first through the Old Croton Aqueduct, which was built in 1842, and then the New Croton Aqueduct.

However, as population density increased around the Croton reservoirs, water quality in the system diminished and, in the late 1990s, DEP stopped using Croton Water for in-city distribution and began planning the construction of a filtration plant. With the system taken off-line and the Aqueduct drained of water, DEP conducted an extensive inspection of the tunnel and began plans for repairs.

Water for New Yorkers of the Future

A major component of the project was the connection of the Aqueduct to the Croton Water Filtration Plant in the Bronx.

A large concrete plug, 58 feet long and 12 feet wide, was built within the Aqueduct to direct the water through a new tunnel to the filtration plant. Once the water has gone through the filtration process, it travels through a separate tunnel back to the Aqueduct, downstream of the concrete plug, and towards the distribution network. The filtration and mechanical systems within the Croton Plant are currently being tested with water provided through the New Croton Aqueduct.

The completion of the Croton Filtration Plant and the reactivation of the Croton drinking water supply system will play important roles in the future as DEP repairs leaks in the Delaware Aqueduct, which currently supplies more than 50 percent of the city’s daily water needs.

Last year DEP began building two vertical shafts on opposite sides of the Hudson River in Orange and Ulster Counties. The shafts will be used by workers to build a bypass tunnel around a leaking portion of the Delaware Aqueduct, roughly 600 feet below ground level. Once that bypass tunnel has been built, DEP will temporarily shut down the Delaware Aqueduct in 2021 to make the necessary connections.

The Croton system will be critical in ensuring that DEP can continue to meet the city’s drinking water needs during the shutdown of the Delaware Aqueduct. It will also help to supplement the city’s water supply during future drought conditions.

DEP manages New York City’s water supply, providing more than one billion gallons of water each day to more than nine million residents, including more than eight million in New York City.

The water is delivered from a watershed that extends more than 125 miles from the city, comprising 19 reservoirs and three controlled lakes. Approximately 7,000 miles of water mains, tunnels and aqueducts bring water to homes and businesses throughout the five boroughs.

And for all you New York City water system fanatics, here are some details on the actual work on the aqueduct:

Rehabilitation work included re-grouting the brick lining of the tunnel, upgrading 34 shaft site connections that allow crews to access the tunnel from ground level, and repairing valves and pumps that allow certain Westchester communities to pull water from the Aqueduct.

Five historic gatehouses located at ground level along the route of the Aqueduct were also restored.

Due to a limited number of access points, and restrictions on the size of the equipment that would fit through them, much of the machinery was taken apart and lowered by crane though the shafts hundreds of feet down to the Aqueduct, where it was reassembled.

The inspection of the Aqueduct began in 1996 and included the use of ultrasonic stress waves, ground penetrating radar, and diamond core test drilling to determine the permeability and strength of the tunnel lining and surrounding bedrock. A remotely operated vehicle inspected the portion of the tunnel that runs under the Harlem River, which was not dewatered.

Overall, the Aqueduct was found to be in good condition, with some areas requiring sediment removal, the repair of cracks in the tunnel lining, and brick and mortar repointing and replacement.

Rehabilitation work commenced in 2004 and was completed in 2013. The interior of the Aqueduct was power washed and where investigations showed that a void may be present behind the tunnel lining, a series of grouting injections was made to ensure the stability of the tunnel.

The lining of the tunnel is made up of more than 163 million bricks and portions were repointed and secured with new grouting to reduce friction in the tunnel and keep groundwater from seeping in. Additionally, a new 10-foot diameter shaft cap was installed at the Aqueduct’s terminus in upper Manhattan.

Work also included the upgrade of existing connections to the Aqueduct, including shafts and pumps, for the Villages of Briarcliff Manor, Tarrytown, and Sleepy Hollow. The New Croton Aqueduct serves as a backup water supply for these villages, which primarily rely on the Catskill Aqueduct.

In addition, the towns of New Castle, Ossining, and Pelham, the villages of Pleasantville, Ossining, Irvington, Ardsley, Bronxville, Dobbs Ferry, Hastings-on-Hudson, Pelham Manor, Pelham, Tuckahoe, and the City of New Rochelle also have connections that allow them to use water provided through the New Croton Aqueduct.

Environmentalists See Mixed Bag in Cuomo Budget

Gov. Andrew Cuomo draws a clear connection between extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy and climate change. And he argues that the challenges posed to New York State by climate change will only grow.

But the governor’s proposed budget this year reveals an uneven focus: major investments in areas like energy efficiency and solar power are coupled with what advocates say is woefully inadequate support for core environmental programs that are on the front-line of the state’s response to climate change.

“It’s great to see that he’s [Cuomo] making that connection [to climate change],” said Dan Hendrick, vice-president for external affairs at the New York League of Conservation Voters. “But…the investments aren’t following. We’re not seeing that broader vision [in terms of] sustainability and resiliency.”

[Read more at the Gotham Gazette.]

Mayor de Blasio Names New Head of the City’s DEP

Mayor de Blasio has just announced that Emily Lloyd will replace Carter Strickland as commissioner of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection.

The DEP, with almost 6,000 staff members, manages the New York City water supply system, including its vast upstate watershed, in addition to a wide variety of other regulatory and sustainability planning responsibilities.

The Mayor’s office released the following statement:

“Emily Lloyd, currently the Administrator of Prospect Park and President of the Prospect Park Alliance, is a veteran of city government with the experience and management skills necessary to manage and conserve the city’s thousands of miles of watershed and infrastructure. This is in addition to overseeing the regulation of air quality, hazardous waste, and critical quality of life issues.

She will be tasked with improving the resiliency of the city’s aging water infrastructure to better prepare for upcoming storms, continuing to repair and rebuild after Hurricane Sandy, and helping home and property owners better understand their waters bills and navigate the billing dispute process.”

The Mayor’s Office also released a statement from Ms. Lloyd:

“At a time when natural resources are increasingly scarce and extreme weather events are increasingly common, we need to get much more prudent about managing our water supply and ensuring our infrastructure is ready to handle any storm that might strike next. The very safety and well-being of New Yorkers are at stake.

We also need to create a much more accessible and user-friendly department that serves all New Yorkers – one that allows our customers to understand, and, if necessary, contest and their bills quickly and easily. I’m grateful to be able to take the lead on forging that path.”

News Analysis: It’s Worth Paying Attention to Albany Right Now

There are all sorts of interesting things happening at the state level—big and small—that will impact environmental protection and sustainability going forward.

While there has been a general perception that the state is in a better position financially, the Governor is proposing multi-year tax cuts which impacts any discussion about spending priorities.

State Budget Negotiations and Why They Matter

Later this week, we’ll take a deeper look at a couple of issues that have attracted concern from environmental groups and lawmakers. First, we have updated analysis on the Governor’s proposed allocations for the state’s lead environmental agency, the Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Environmental Protection Fund, both of which, we argue, are critical to New York’s response to climate change.

Advocates say that the Governor will be proposing changes to his draft budget this week.

Watch the DEC State Budget Hearing

The January 29th legislative hearing on the state budget for the DEC provides a interesting window on the environmental concerns of legislators throughout New York, and the DEC’s ability to work with limited resources.

Topics discussed ranged from the need to plug “hundreds, if not thousands” of abandoned gas wells in upstate New York to the DEC’s successful efforts to obtain funding for a new shellfish laboratory on Long Island.

The DEC monitors the safety of shellfish growing areas along the New York coastline, and DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens noted the need for a new lab had been “desperate.”

Cuts to the MTA

Environmental and sustainability advocates are preparing to fight Albany’s plans to “divert dedicated mass transit funds to plug holes in the state budget.”

The New York League of Conservation Voters reports that Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget would cut $40 million from the MTA. These funds currently help to cover the operations, service and maintenance of the transit system.

And, the League adds, “Governor Cuomo is planning to divert these funds not just in 2014, but in 2015, 2016 and beyond. In total, nearly $350 million could be siphoned away from transit.”

Useful Background on the State Budget—Flat Spending and Tax Cuts

Budget analysts point out that the governor’s budget adheres to a 2-percent cap on spending statewide. Most state agencies are seeing reductions or flat funding, Carolyn Boldiston, a senior analyst at the Fiscal Policy Institute, told NYER.

The FPI notes that, in its entirety, the state budget calls for $1.7 billion in spending cuts this year, and much deeper cuts in the years to come. The governor’s office has also called for a steady increase in tax cuts over the next four years, including a proposal to reduce the estate tax by 40 percent. FPI says the reduction in the estate tax alone would cost the state almost $800 million annually.

Taking Environmental Funding to the Voters

The state has experienced nine federally declared disasters since 2011. As Governor Cuomo said at a news conference immediately after Superstorm Sandy, “climate change, extreme weather…and our vulnerability to it…is undeniable today.”

And the state is responding; it says it has embarked on a multi-billion dollar effort to protect its infrastructure, transportation networks, energy supply, coastline, and residents from extreme weather. A significant portion of that work will be federally funded.

But major environmental infrastructure projects, which are critical to public health and sustainability –like smarter wastewater treatment- also need significantly more support than the Governor has proposed, say legislators and advocates.

The chairs of the state assembly and senate Environmental Conservation committees, Robert Sweeney, D-Long Island and Mark Grisanti, R.-Buffalo, introduced legislation last fall calling for a $5 million environmental bond act. The bond act has been described as the largest in the state’s history.

Work is needed on both our wastewater and drinking water systems. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, New York State has reported the need for almost $60 billion worth of drinking water and wastewater infrastructure projects over the next 20 years.

In Rockland County, an insufficient supply of surface drinking water has led to proposals ranging from water recycling to a de-salination plant, which would treat water from the Hudson River. And the quality of the aquifer that supplies Long Island’s drinking water is deteriorating as well, said Assemblyman Sweeney.

Revenue from such a bond act could also help to support the state DEC’s enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act.

Dan Hendrick at the NYLCV told NYER he was unsure that the Cuomo administration would support putting the bond act forward to voters, but agreed that a “broader discussion [is] brewing in the background” regarding how the state can fully fund its environmental programs

“Clearly the infrastructure needs are pretty massive…[but there’s] no thinking outside of the box this year,” Hendrick said.

New Questions about Gas Drilling

This week, we’ll also examine the state’s use of “produced water”, which is a by-product of gas drilling, for de-icing on upstate roads. The practice has attracted considerable attention, and questions from state legislators.

And, it’s worth seeing the testimony earlier this month of State Department of Health Commissioner, Dr. Nirav Shah, regarding the state’s ongoing review of the public health impacts of high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

Will New York Move Full-Force Toward Clean Energy?

The state will hold public hearings on its voluminous draft energy plan this week in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

The state says that the draft 2014 Energy Plan “sets forth a vision for New York’s energy future that connects a vibrant private sector market with communities and individual customers to create a dynamic, affordable clean energy economy.”

According to the state, New York has “already made great strides toward this goal.” They add that renewable power sources—hydro, solar, wind, and other carbon-free solutions—continue to grow as a share of the total energy produced in New York.

As we reported last week, environmental groups are saying that the state needs to put forward actual clean energy targets for its fuel mix in 2030 and 2050.

The state’s plan projects a 50% reduction in carbon emissions from New York State by 2030, and an ambitious 80% reduction in overall green house gas emissions by 2050.