New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



When in Drought

It's too darn hot. So said Cole Porter — and most New Yorkers, as well, who suffered through the 90-degree "dog days" of April (!) 2002. The blast of August-like weather was another headache for most city dwellers, who were still coming to terms with the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks and a more recent drought crisis.

With the city's reservoirs nearly 40 percentage points below normal because of less-than-average rainfall
in the city's nearly 2,000-square-mile watershed over the last several months, Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared a "Stage I Drought Emergency" for New York City, with mandatory restrictions effective April 1.

According to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), coping with the drought emergency
falls into three phases: "Drought Watch," "Drought Warning," and "Drought Emergency." Each is invoked sequentially as conditions worsen. The "Drought Emergency" is further subdivided into four stages, with
increasingly severe restrictions. Guidelines exist to identify when each phase should be declared and when the appropriate responses should be implemented. These guidelines are based on hydrological and meteorological conditions, among other factors. The stages:

Drought Watch. A drought watch is declared when there is less than a 50 percent probability that either of the two largest reservoir systems, the Delaware (Cannonsville, Neversink, Pepacton, and Rondout ) or the Catskill (Ashoka and Schoharie) reservoirs, will fill by June 1, the start of the water-year.

Drought Warning. A drought warning is declared when there is less than a 33 percent probability that either the Catskill or Delaware Systems
will fill by June 1.

Drought Emergency. A drought emergency is declared when there is a reasonable probability that, without the implementation of stringent measures to reduce consumption, a protracted dry period would cause the city's reservoirs to be drained. This probability is calculated during dry periods in consultation with the New York State Drought Management Task Force and the New York State Disaster Preparedness Commission. The estimate is based on analysis of the historical record, the pattern of the dry period months, water quality, subsystem storage balances, delivery system status, system construction, maintenance operations, snow cover, precipitation patterns, use forecasts, and other facts. Because no two droughts are identical, no single probability profile can be identified in advance that would generally apply to the declaration of a drought emergency.

As of mid-April, most co-op and condo managers were on top of the situation. Many note that a key component in such cases is to inform residents about the new restrictions and, conversely, to get those residents to report any leaks. "There's a danger that people will become jaded," says Donald Levy, director of management at Lawrence Properties. "This is not the first drought and, after a while, people don't take it all that seriously. You have to do the right thing."

Part of doing that is the posting of notices offering warnings about the emergency. Under Stage I, "Save Water" signs must be placed in various locations. In multiple dwellings of five or more units, for instance, the signs must be posted at each entrance and above mailboxes. During a Stage II or III emergency, signs must also be posted in each elevator and elevator lobby. Boards can add their own artwork or include the phone number of the building's superintendent for leak repairs, but they must also retain the DEP phone number on the sign.

These signs can be obtained from DEP's borough offices: Manhattan: 1250 Broadway, 8th Floor; Bronx: 1932 Arthur Avenue, 6th Floor; Brooklyn: 250 Livingston Street, 8th Floor; Queens: 96-05 Horace Harding Expressway, 1st Floor; Staten Island: 60 Bay Street, 6th Floor.

"We have posted all the notices," says David Khazzam, vice president of PRC Management. "Some of our boards take the extra step of putting information in their newsletters, asking residents to report water leaks and do their part for the community."

"We correct problems and inform the residents, and try to do it with a little humor," adds Anita Sapirman, president of Saparn Realty. "We put up [the DEP] signs for people and include our own comment: 'Don't be a drip; shower with a friend.'"

Boards should also be aware of restrictions on activities involving water. Among them:

Window-washing. Facades, including windows, can be washed during Stage I but not during Stages II or III. Windows alone can be washed with a bucket even in Stages II or III. DEP encourages the use of non-potable water for this purpose.

Sidewalk/Street/Driveway Washing.Washing of sidewalks, streets, driveways, steps, and other exteriors with public water and a hose is prohibited throughout a drought emergency. Sidewalks may be cleaned with water from a bucket.

Asbestos removal work. Proper asbestos removal procedures specified by the proper authorities should not be abridged to accommodate the drought restrictions.

"Our building staff members are trained to limit water use," observes Khazzam. "Slop sinks are not left running; they wash the compactor room completely every two weeks, not every day, and mop it in between. When you wash it down, you use 10 to 15 buckets more of water. That's a big waste."

During the drought, water metering and conservation companies are finding their services in demand. "We have used — and intend to use — the water monitoring companies extensively," Levy says.

"During the drought, there has been an uptrend from managing agents asking about our services and about how to reduce water consumption," reports Alan Rothschild, president of The Vantage Group, a water meter monitoring and conservation firm. "Our work becomes even more important during a drought."

Most water consultants swear by their conservation methods. Like good sleuths, they investigate water use and track down areas of waste. "The key thing is knowing how much water the building should be using," explains Rothschild. "Every building has leaks but once you quantify them, you can find the economically feasible way of correcting them. If you have $13,500 a year worth of leaks, you can see the economy in spending a few thousand dollars [on our fee] to find a way to correct waste."

What consultants do is create a profile of the property by monitoring the total flow of water into the premises and project annual water consumption. "For each client," explains Michael Lockhart, president of American Telephone & Utility Consultants, a meter-reading firm, "we begin with a thorough on-site survey of the premises, inspecting all metering equipment and examining the specific usage of each service. We verify that our client's present set-up corresponds with what has been billed in the past."

The consultants then compare that data to models of what a building of its size and type should be using. By checking out typical problem areas — faucets and toilets — and talking with the superintendent and staff, they pinpoint possible trouble spots. They will then prepare a report, suggesting possible solutions. (For more on water metering and conservation, see "Water, Water Everywhere," Habitat, June 2001.)

There are fines for noncompliance of drought restrictions: penalties for failing to post "save water" signs are $100; for allowing leaks or water waste from faucets, $250; and for using water to spray or wash the sidewalk or the street, $250. These fines can get as high as $1,000 when the different drought phases kick in.

For all that, some co-op owners are not worried — but, then again, some co-op owners know better. The early heat wave and the drought are "recurring things; it is one of those flukes of Mother Nature," explains Joe Witte, a former board member and shareholder at an East Side co-op — who also happens to be a chief meteorologist for the CNBC-TV cable channel. "You get these crazy weather changes when you get warm jet streams from Texas and Georgia, not cool jet streams from Canada. It's just a kink."

Really? Kink or not, it's still too darn hot.

Subscriber Login

Ask the Experts

learn more

Learn all the basics of NYC co-op and condo management, with straight talk from heavy hitters in the field of co-op or condo apartments

Professionals in some of the key fields of co-op and condo board governance and building management answer common questions in their areas of expertise

Source Guide

see the guide

Looking for a vendor?