Water Line: A weekly newsletter from the Adirondack Explorer’s water reporter
By RY RIVARD
Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants voters to approve a $3 billion bond to pay for a variety of environmental projects, including plans to restore streams to prevent flooding and fill them with fish.
During his major “state of the state” speech last week, the governor called the bond measure, which voters would see on the ballot this November, “the nation’s most aggressive program for significant habitat restoration and flood reduction.”
The state is facing a $6 billion budget deficit this year.
Details of the bond measure have yet be released, but a few of the governor’s goals may affect the Adirondacks’ waterways:
Prevent floods: There’s a lot of different ideas for how to spend any new bond money, but Basil Seggos, the head of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, told WCNY in Syracuse that “the biggest problems that we face are largely flood related.” The potential flood control projects include everything from grand ideas like removing aging dams to “right-sizing” culverts.
Reduce water pollution: Many flood control projects can have more than one purpose. So, controlling stormwater — a fancy name for rain and snowmelt — can also reduce runaway water that picks up pollution and washes it into the Adirondacks’ otherwise protected rivers, streams and lakes. The pollution is contributing to blooms of toxic bacteria that the state also wants to curb.
Improve fisheries: Cuomo, an avid angler, wants the state to produce another half million salmon and trout a year. He also wants to develop a “hardier strain of brown trout.” Right now, the environmental conservation department is “refreshing” the genetics of its bred domestic brown trout with genes from a wild population to increase survival. That’s in part because anglers have told the state they want the opportunity to catch wild trout or stocked trout that have lived longer in streams.
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Bonds, for those unfamiliar with how they work, aren’t magic money: Voters are giving the government permission to borrow lots of money to use now, but obligating the government — and taxpayers — to pay that money back, with interest, over the next several decades.
New York’s last big voter-approved environmental bond was the $1.75 billion “Clean Water/Clean Air” bond in 1996, when George Pataki was governor. The biggest chunk of that — about $1 billion — was set aside for various kinds of water projects, like wastewater treatment plant, flood control, dam safety, and water supply protection projects.
Locally, here’s a few projects the bond funded, according to the environmental conservation department:
- $300,000 for a boat launch at Moffitt Beach Campground in Hamilton County
- $2.5 million in fee and easements for nearly 1,000 acres at the Bartlett Carry parcel in Harrietstown, Franklin County
- $466,422 for the Town of Brighton, Franklin County, to help close its municipal landfill
Before that, voters approved the $1.4 billion Environmental Quality Bond Act of 1986, the $1.1 billion Environmental Quality Bond Act of 1972, the $200 million Outdoor Recreation Bond Act of 1966, the $1 billion Pure Waters Bond Act of 1965 and the $100 million Parks and Recreation Land Acquisition Bond Acts of 1960 and 1962.
Since the 1996 bond, New York has funded most of its capital investment in environmental projects through a combination of annual spending and other state-supported bonds issued by agencies without voter approval, a kind of debt which state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has labelled “backdoor borrowing” and sought to ban.
Typically, bonds pass by drawing a lot of support and little opposition, which means voters will likely be asked to fund what Seggos called a “nice spread of projects,” another way of saying something for everyone.
Voters in the nation’s other big environmentally friendly state, California, have repeatedly approved environmental bonds in recent years. The two states are worth comparing, since their criminal justice, environmental and labor policies often end up mirroring each other. Since 1996, California voters have approved over $20 billion in different environment-related bonds, though much of the money was earmarked for water supply projects in a state prone to severe drought, unlike New York.
In Other News
- The federal government said 2019 was the second-hottest year on record in the United States and that 14 weather and climate disasters had losses of more than $1 billion, totalling roughly $45 billion in combined damage.
- Scientists don’t yet understand the health effects of pervasive plastic pollution.
- New Jersey is dealing with something familiar to some well owners in the Adirondacks: road salt contamination.