Stephen M. Tomasik
DEC – Division of Environmental Permits
625 Broadway, 4th Floor
Albany, NY 12233-1750
February 26, 2015
Application ID: 0-9999-00181/00009 – Water Quality Certification
Application ID: 0-9999-00181/00010 – Freshwater Wetlands
Application ID: 0-9999-00181/00011 – Water Withdrawal
Application ID: 0-9999-00181/00012 – Excavation and Fill in Navigable Waters
Application ID: 0-9999-00181/00013 – Stream Disturbance
Dear Mr. Tomasik,
The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP), in its scoping comments, noted the sensitivity of the NYC watershed, its importance to millions of water consumers in New York, and potential impacts on the watershed and ultimately the water supply resulting from stormwater discharges and polluted runoff that could occur during construction of the Constitution pipeline. (1)
The results of the following studies substantiate NYCDEP’s concerns, regarding negative impacts and consequences to all of the current waters and watersheds that Constitution Pipeline would traverse.
A 2013 Study by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and NYCDEP was conducted to identify the sensitivity of forested ecosystems to forest disturbance (tree cutting), in the northeastern United States. The study area was in the headwaters of the Neversink Reservoir watershed, part of the New York City water supply system, in the Catskill Mountains of southeastern New York. Study monitoring was conducted from 4 years before the harvests until 4 years after the harvests.
The study concluded that forest clear-cutting resulted in a large release of nitrate (NO3-) from watershed soils and a concurrent release of inorganic monomeric aluminum (Alim) which is toxic to some aquatic biota. These releases caused “100-percent mortality of caged brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) during the first year after the clear-cut and adversely affected macro-invertebrate communities for 2 years after the harvest.”
The increased soil NO3- concentrations measured after the harvest could be completely accounted for by the decrease in nitrogen (N) uptake by watershed trees, rather than an increase in N mineralization and nitrification. (2)
The study also stated that deer browsing could affect water quality by suppressing forest regeneration and nutrient uptake. Of course in the case of a pipeline row, the forest will never be allowed to grow back. The use of pesticides and routine, maintenance cutting inevitably creates long-term loss of critical uptake of deleterious chemicals and compounds by trees.
Another study published in 2005 titled “Stream acidification and mortality of brook trout(Salvelinus fontinalis) in response to timber harvest in Catskill Mountain watersheds, New York, USA”, documented the exact same outcome as the USGS study noted above. There were sharp increases of acidity, NO3 and Alim as a result of clear-cutting. The results? 100 percent fish kill of brook trout in the study area. (3)
Additionally, several other studies corroborate that Intensive forest harvesting can alter the physical and chemical properties of stream-draining “forested catchments”–creating changes in stream water chemistry that can last for many years. These studies conclude that changes in stream chemistry such as increased Nitrate concentrations, acidification and increased Aluminum concentrations following tree cutting, are not only detrimental to sensitive fish species and other aquatic organisms but can degrade the quality of drinking water and contribute to eutrophication in receiving waters. (4)
The USGS defines eutrophication as “The process by which a body of water acquires a high concentration of nutrients, especially phosphates and nitrates. These typically promote excessive growth of algae. As the algae die and decompose, high levels of organic matter and the decomposing organisms deplete the water of available oxygen, causing the death of other organisms, such as fish.”
§703.2 NYS Narrative Water quality standards states:
Taste, color, and odor-producing, toxic and other deleterious substances. None in amounts that will adversely affect the taste, color or odor thereof, or impair the waters for their best usages for water classes: AA, A, B, C, D, SA, SB, SC, I, SD, A-Special, GA, GSA, GSB
Phosphorus and nitrogen. None in amounts that will result in growths of algae, weeds and slimes that will impair the waters for their best usages for water classes: AA, A, B, C, D, SA, SB, SC, I, SD, A-Special
§703.3 Water quality standards for pH, dissolved oxygen, dissolved solids, odor, color and turbidity states:
pH shall not be less than 6.5 nor more than 8.5 for water classes: AA, A, B, C, AA-Special, A-Special, GA
ph shall not be less than 6.0 nor more than 9.5. for water classes: D
Dissolved oxygen (DO):
In rivers and upper waters of lakes, not less than 6.0 mg/L at any time. In hypolimnetic waters, it should not be less than necessary for the support of fishlife, particularly cold water species for water classes: A-Special
For trout spawning waters (TS), the DO concentration shall not be less than 7.0 mg/L from other than natural conditions For trout waters (T), the minimum daily average shall not be less than 6.0 mg/L, and at no time shall the concentration be less than 5.0 mg/L. For nontrout waters, the minimum daily average shall not be less than 5.0 mg/L, and at no time shall the DO concentration be less than 4.0 mg/L for water classes: AA, A, B, C, AA-Special
Shall not be less than 3.0 mg/L at any time for water classes: D
Mr. Tomasik, according to the FEIS, the Constitution pipeline would traverse 79 miles of Forested land by clearcutting 1,033.9 acres of upland forest and 33.8 acres of wetland forests.(5) The project would also cross a total of 289 surface waterbodies, of which the NYSDEC determined that 118 waterbodies classified as fisheries of special concern.(6)
Another 30 waterbodies are within the construction right-of-way, but not crossed by the trenchline directly. Additionally, there are many other waterbodies within the watershed that will be receiving runoff from the clearcut pipeline right-of-way.
Given the solid study data above, this is a bad combination with predictable adverse impacts to New York State water quality. Consequently, trout, fish, biota, birds and wildlife that all sustain themselves on food from ponds, rivers, wetlands and streams will also be adversely affected by the release of Nitrate, aluminum and acidity from clearcutting hundreds of thousands of New York State trees.
The FEIS concludes: “Based on the avoidance and minimization measures developed by Constitution, including the ECPs, we conclude that impacts on groundwater, surface water, and wetland resources would be effectively minimized or mitigated, and would be largely temporary in duration.”
This conclusion is false based on the data herein. The contamination of waters by Nitrate and Aluminum along with acidification caused by clearcutting is not included in the FEIS and therefore will not be “effectively minimized or mitigated” and will violate New York State’s Water Quality Standards. I ask that the DEC Please do your due diligence and deny this permit.
1) Constitution Pipeline FEIS-Alternatives p.3-31
5)FEIS: General Impacts and Mitigation 18.104.22.168 (p.4-76)
6)FEIS: Executive Summary p.6