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New York Legislators OK Bill to Prevent Water 'Overconsumption'

New York legislators have sent Gov. Andrew Cuomo a bill intended to improve the state's water management, using a permitting program to prevent "overconsumption" by large-scale users, which may include the energy industry.

The New York State Senate late Thursday affirmed S3798, sponsored by state Sen. Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo). The bill mirrors A5318A by Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, which was passed in May with overwhelming approval.

"Passage of this monumental legislation will protect our environment by regulating the amount of water that can be extracted," Grisanti said. "Under current law the state does not have the proper oversight to regulate water withdrawals, and with this legislation they will be able to better protect our state's greatest natural resource: its water."

Currently, the state's authority to protect water withdrawals mostly is limited to public water supplies, which ensure that there are adequate quantities of potable water. As a result, consumptive uses of water for agricultural, commercial and industrial purposes -- such as oil and gas drilling -- have remained largely unregulated by the state.

The bill, if enacted by Cuomo, would enable the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to implement a permitting program for all water withdrawal systems with a capacity equal to or more than 100,000 gallons per day.

Large-scale consumers could continue to obtain the water that they need in a way that is protective of the overall quantity and quality of the water supply. The measure also would relieve a regulatory burden for municipalities and some industry by removing the current permit issued for smaller water withdrawals to focus instead on water withdrawal projects that are most likely to have a "significant"impact on the state's water resources.

"This protection is critical throughout New York, as well as in western New York where the Great Lakes hold one-fifth of the world's fresh water," said Grisanti. "This legislation is supported by both the environmental and business community and shows how working together can achieve sound and necessary environmental policy."

The state's largest rivers and lakes -- the Great Lakes and the Susquehanna and Delaware rivers -- are governed by federal, international or multi-state efforts. The DEC had pushed the bill to help it better oversee and track water use.

"Allowing DEC to regulate large water withdrawals for agricultural, industrial, commercial and other purposes will even the regulatory playing field while protecting the state's finite water resources," said DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis.

"There is continuing pressure both here in New York and throughout the region to extract our finite water resources," said state Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos. "Implementing a statewide program to monitor the large-scale withdrawal of water is consistent with actions being taken in other states. It is an environmentally and economically responsible approach to ensuring adequate water supplies for drinking, recreating, farming and other commercial purposes, and maintaining ecological diversity for current and future generations."

Heather Briccetti, who is acting CEO of The Business Council of New York State Inc., said the legislation would provide a "reasonable framework that will allow economic growth and activity to take place in New York State while protecting our water resources."

Environmental groups also were pleased with the bill's passage. Darryl Banks, who is deputy director for conservation strategies and external affairs for The Nature Conservancy in New York, said the water management legislation would "create a statewide program that protects New York's ecologically and economically important water resources."

Audubon New York Executive Director Albert E. Caccese added that "although seemingly endless, water is a finite resource which must be properly managed to prevent against depletion. This legislation will ensure the state is adequately protecting our freshwater to provide millions of people with clean drinking water, and realize countless other important benefits from supporting commerce and industry to providing for recreation and tourism."

The legislation, which is similar to bills enacted in Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, also would implement key provisions of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact, of which New York is a member.

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