Stormwater runoff is a key source of pollution in our bays and on our beaches, but regulating it isn't easy. Now a state court has found that New York's Department of Environmental Conservation has given municipal storm sewer systems too much leeway. The ruling makes sense, but fixing the system will be tough. Still, it must be done.
The federal Clean Water Act requires the state to take action to reduce runoff pollution. But DEC, devastated by cuts for years, doesn't have enough staff to issue individual permits to storm sewer systems and keep a close eye on what each one is doing to comply with the statute. To cope, DEC has been issuing general permits to the systems, then essentially letting them self-certify that they're meeting the general pollution-reduction goals set out by the permit.
So environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and Long Island's Peconic Baykeeper, sued in an environmental claims part of the State Supreme Court in Westchester County. The court agreed that DEC has not been doing enough to monitor these systems and hold them to compliance schedules.
Unless the state is successful on appeal, DEC will have to do more. In his past role as attorney general, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo defended state agencies -- and should realize this would be a tough appeal to win. Instead, as governor, he should invest in restoring staff so DEC can do its job: protecting our waters.