The New York state budget includes $2.5 billion for clean water infrastructure, which lawmakers and environmentalists alike are cheering. And fueled by drinking water contamination in Hoosick Falls and Newburgh, there is companion legislation that requires nearly all public drinking water supplies in the state to be tested for emerging contaminants.
State Department of Health Deputy Commissioner for the Office of Public Health Brad Hutton says the legislation expands drinking water protections.
“This will make New York state the first in the nation to require water systems across New York to test for emerging contaminants regardless of the size of the water system,” Hutton says.
The new legislation covers all community water systems serving 25 users or more. There was no state requirement prior. Again, Hutton.
“The federal program, which is known as the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, only required systems that served 10,000 users or more to test for certain unregulated contaminants, and then a really small random sample of other systems are tested,” Hutton says.
Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay applauds the new legislation.
“So now, every system in the state, other than those that handle just a few homes, are going to be tested for these emerging, toxic contaminants of concern that we are just starting to get our arms around,” Gallay says. “And it’s going to lead to a big increase in the healthiness of our water. And it’s going to save lives and help people avoid illnesses.”
Hutton says the legislation mandates that the Department of Health require testing for PFOA, PFOS and 1,4-dioxane, for starters.
“And then, the Department will be working to identify other potential contaminants to require testing for with the input of a newly established Drinking Water Quality Council,” says Hutton.
“These contaminants we saw in Newburgh and Hoosick Falls, PFOS and PFOA, that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Gallay says.
Hutton says testing for PFOA and PFOS could begin this year.
“There are certain requirements in the legislation for the council to convene a couple of times a year — we’ll certainly be meeting more often than that the first year — and for the council to make recommendations to the commissioner of health within one year of its first meeting as to the contaminants that should be tested,” says Hutton. “There are also requirements on water systems to test at least every three years for certain contaminants.”
Hutton says the council, yet to be formed, will comprise the following.
“It’s a 12-member council, appointed by the governor, with four members recommended by the Senate and the Assembly, two each. The eight members that the governor appoints include four state agency representatives from DOH and DEC [Department of Environmental Conservation] and then four others,” says Hutton. “There’s certain expertise that’s required to be represented on the council, including some water system operators, expertise in environmental health and microbiology and engineering.”
Meanwhile, Riverkeeper’s Gallay speaks to the recently approved Water Infrastructure Act of 2017, which invests $2.5 billion in the state’s aging water infrastructure.
“In the first year alone, $725 million is available to improve our water supply systems and our wastewater treatment systems. That’s about four times as much as this past year, so it’s a big jump,” Gallay says. “And it’s going to start cutting into the backlog of projects we haven’t been getting to for decades.”
Also on the environmental front, the state budget, which passed nine days late, continues allocating $300 million to the Environmental Protection Fund.