Report: NY DEC Lacks Staff to Monitor Fracking

The Environmental Advocates of New York has discovered that the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has insufficient staff to monitor water pollution in New York State and has detailed the situation in a report: Defending Drinking Water.

The DEC's Division of Water will need increased staff and resources to oversee the safe handling and disposal of the wastewater produced from hydraulic fracturing. Since 1990, 72 staff positions have been cut at the division, while responsibilities to protect drinking water, fisheries and aquatic habitat have nearly doubled.

"As pressure to drill for natural gas increases, New York's leaders must ensure that our waterways are protected from fracking dangers. Any and all water used must be obtained sustainably and all wastewater treated and disposed of responsibly. These critical tasks can't be met by current staff levels at the Department of Environmental Conservation," said Alison Jenkins, Fiscal Policy Program director, Environmental Advocates of New York. "Until the DEC has the staff and resources to protect New York's water, we should hold off on fracking."

An agency-wide hiring freeze and retirement incentives have forced the DEC to do less with more over the past two years. The agency protects water quality by setting standards for dam safety, regulating water pollution from factories and sewage plants and controlling stormwater runoff from construction sites and factory farms. Currently, New York has only nine staff to oversee the safety of 5,663 dams. By the end of the 2009-10 State Fiscal Year, the DEC's Division of Water will have lost an additional 40 staffers. Permitting natural gas drilling presents new challenges for which the agency isn't prepared.

Additional staff and resources are desperately needed. For instance, one result of DEC staff shortages is the agency's failure to meet federal requirements for water pollution oversight. Under the Clean Water Act, New York is tasked with protecting water from industrial polluters, sewage treatment plants and runoff by means of the State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program. However, the permit program is flawed due to staff and resource shortages, leading to a crisis-more than 1,000 polluters have not undergone the federally required five-year review of their permits in more than a decade; some permits have not been reviewed for more than 20 years. In 2008, the DEC was forced to test 94 percent fewer effluent samples than it had in 1990 due to staff shortages.

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