The Water Withdrawal Bill, S3798-2011 , passed in the Senate unanimously yesterday.  It had also enjoyed bipartisan support in the Assembly.  Many residents concerned about gas drilling find that the provision allowing up to 100,000 gallons of water to be removed without a permit troubling.  The concern is that gas exploration companies will contract with independent contractor water haulers, each of whom will fall below the threshold for the daily 100,000 gallons.  Under the current regulations, there is no permitting system for water withdrawals, which are governed only by riparian rights, allowing the owners of adjacent land to withdraw water as needed.

There were some environmental groups that agreed with the DEC (the bill is a Governor’s program bill, and was written by DEC staff), and believed that a system of permitting for large water users would allow us to track the use of the resource.  Other environmental groups, and most anti-hydrofracking groups, believed that the 100,000 gallons per “entity” provision amounted to “free water for hydrofrackers” due to the subcontractor loophole.  They sought to change the language of the bill to read “end user” rather than “entity,” but were not successful in getting that wording change.

Farmers are the constituency that need the capacity to withdraw water on a daily basis for watering large livestock herds and/or irrigating crops.  It remains to be seen whether or not this will result in the consumptive use of large volumes of NYS water for hydrofracking purposes– although many anti-hydrofracking groups are convinced it will.

As this bill was a Governor’s program bill, and wording was not changed by the legislature, there is almost no chance that the Governor will not sign it into law.