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For Release: Wednesday, April 12, 2023

DEC Proposes Amended Water Quality Criteria for Marine Waters

Proposed Criteria Better Align with Federal Clean Water Act, Protect Swimming, Boating, and Shellfishing

Public Hearings for Proposed Criteria June 13 and June 15; June 20 Deadline for Public Comments

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced proposed amendments to New York's water quality criteria that are a key component of New York's water quality standard regulations. The proposed criteria would set more stringent limitations on certain bacteria to further help protect public health when using marine waterways through recreational and shellfishing activities. DEC is accepting public comments on the proposed amendments until June 20, 2023, and public hearings are scheduled for June 13 and 15.

"DEC is committed to improving water quality in New York's marine waters to benefit communities, habitat, and wildlife and we continue to make investments and advance policies to help us reach the State's clean water objectives," DEC Commissioner Seggos said. "DEC worked closely with New York City, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and other key stakeholders to develop this proposal that will significantly improve water quality in the New York City region and we encourage New Yorkers to review and comment on the proposed amendments."

"EPA is pleased that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has proposed amendments to New York's Water Quality Standards," said EPA Region 2 Administrator Lisa F. Garcia. "This proposal builds upon input from the public and serves as an important step in aligning the standards with how New Yorkers may use these waters. EPA encourages the public to share their comments and attend an upcoming public hearing to learn more about these proposals."

"Through the payment of their water bills New Yorkers have invested tens of billions of dollars to reduce pollution in local waterways and as a result our Harbor is now cleaner than it has been in more than 150 years," said New York City Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Rohit T. Aggarwala. "These more stringent water quality criteria proposed today by NYS DEC will ensure that we continue this progress towards the federal Clean Water Act's swimmable/fishable goal."

Water Quality Standards are the basis for programs to protect the State's waters. Criteria specified in the standards and guidance values set forth the maximum allowable levels of chemicals, pathogens or other acceptable water conditions required for waters of a designated "best use," such as drinking, fishing, swimming, boating, and shellfishing. A Water Quality Standard is comprised of criteria that are specified so as to allow a waterbody to attain a quality consistent with its designated 'best use.' Water Quality Standards are the regulatory basis for permitting, compliance, enforcement, and monitoring and assessment of the quality of the state's waters.

Waters are classified for their best uses, such as fishing, swimming, source of drinking water, etc., and standards and guidance values are set to protect those uses. All waters are assigned a letter classification that denotes best uses. Letter classes such as A, B, C, and D are assigned to fresh surface waters, and SA, SB, SC, I, and SD to saline (marine) surface waters. Best uses include sources of drinking water, primary contact recreation such as swimming, and secondary contact recreation such as boating, fishing, and shellfishing.

For decades, DEC and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection have worked to limit combined sewer overflow discharges and improve water quality. The proposed rule released today will bring about additional water quality improvements and greater opportunities for safe swimming and boating, making critical progress to achieving the federal Clean Water Act's swimmable/fishable goal.

DEC's proposal applies to saline Class SA, SB, SC, and I waters in and around New York City, Long Island, and the Lower Hudson Valley. The updates include new enterococci bacteria criteria protective of primary contact recreation best use in Class SA and SB waters, primary contact recreation suitability in Class SC waters, and secondary contact recreation best use in Class I waters. Also included in the proposal are new fecal coliform criteria for Class SA waters that align with existing DEC regulations for the certification of opening and closure of shellfish harvest areas. Lastly, a wet weather limited use designation for waters impacted by CSO discharges is proposed but not applied to any waters at this time.

Today's announcement is the second in DEC's three-phase approach to align standards and best uses assigned to the State's saline waters to the uses currently practiced in those waters. Phase one was the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule Making (ANPRM), released July 27, 2022, that solicited data from the public on how they used New York State's saline waters for fishing and recreational purposes. Building off data received in the ANPRM, today's proposal adds more stringent water quality criteria to protect many of the recreational uses cited by the public in the ANPRM. Phase three will be a reclassification of the best use of certain water bodies based on data received during the ANPRM.

DEC encourages public comment on the proposed water quality criteria through participation in the scheduled hearings or the submission of written comments. Details on the hearings can be found at DEC's website. Written statements may be submitted to NYSDEC, 625 Broadway, 4th Floor, Albany, NY 12233-3500, Attn: Michelle Tompkins or by email to Comments must be submitted by June 20, 2023.

The full text of the express terms for the proposed criteria and supporting documentation are available on the DEC website or by contacting by mail: NYSDEC, 625 Broadway, Albany NY 12233-3500, ATTN: Michelle Tompkins, phone by calling (518) 402-8233, e-mail at

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