Legislation Would Give Towns a New Tool to Protect Water Quality
Governor Andrew Cuomo has given final approval to legislation that would permit towns in New York State to establish watershed protection improvement districts. The legislation adds watershed protection improvement districts to the State Town Law as the type of district that a town can create. Under current law Towns may create sewer, wastewater disposal, drainage, water, water quality treatment, park, public parking, lighting, snow removal, water supply, sidewalk, refuse and garbage, aquatic plant growth control, ambulance, harbor improvement, public dock, beach erosion control district, or a fallout shelter district.
The legislation provides that after a watershed protection improvement district has been established, the town board may take such action as may be required to adopt plans and specifications and enter into a contract or contracts, or take such other actions as may be required, for the protection and restoration of groundwater, surface waters, and drinking water quality as it may deem to be necessary or desirable, including but not limited to stormwater treatment projects and wetland construction. NYS Assemblyman Thiele stated, “New York State’s surface, ground, and drinking water resources are continually threatened by pollution. Many rivers, streams, lakes, reservoirs, and estuarine waters do not meet their current designated uses. Approximately 34% of New York’s estuarine waters are categorized as impaired; 44% percent of New York’s lake and reservoir acres are categorized as being impaired or threatened. Contaminants from stormwater runoff and ineffective sanitary septic systems-such as excess nutrients, bacteria, toxic substances, and sediment can cause excessive algae growth, close bathing beaches and shellfishing areas, harm aquatic life, and contaminate drinking water. Best management practices designed to capture, treat, and infiltrate runoff will limit the volume of stormwater and amount of pollutants reaching our waterbodies. Replacing out-dated sanitary septic systems, especially in nutrient sensitive areas and areas with high groundwater tables, will minimize nutrient loadings to groundwater and groundwater-fed surface waters. Towns and private homeowners do not have the funds, individually, to undertake these important measures. Watershed protection improvement districts will create a dedicated, sustainable local funding source, with equitable shared costs. Through watershed protection improvement districts, towns are able to raise funds to install and maintain the following efforts: storm water treatment, drainage and infiltration projects, septic system upgrades, alternative septic systems, conservation landscaping, storm water collection devices, and natural shorelines and shoreline buffers.”