Running dry? Every drop of rain helps

Cooper Lake (photo by Dion Ogust)

Cooper Lake (photo by Dion Ogust)

A week after his well ran dry, Willow resident Bill Ylitalo turned his pump back on wash the dishes, thanks to almost an inch of rain that fell over the Hudson Valley on October 22. With a prediction of more rain — and a touch of snow — over the next two weeks, long-term relief from the region’s drought may be forthcoming.

The National Weather Service reports that its Poughkeepsie station recorded ten inches of rain from June to August, as opposed to the normal amount of 13 inches. Drought conditions did not set in until September, when less than an inch of rain fell during the whole month, a period when the area usually receives over four inches. The result has been such inconveniences as dry wells, an Esopus Creek fishing ban, and municipal water use limitations.

In Phoenicia, the low reservoir level prompted water commissioner Rick Ricciardella to bring the High Street back-up well online. For a week, customers were urged to boil their water before consumption, until Ulster County Health Department tests showed the water to be safe. Ricciardella had already, in mid-September, issued an order throughout the Phoenicia Water District prohibiting non-essential water use such as car washing and the watering of lawns and gardens.

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In early October, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced plans to forbid fishing in the Esopus Creek, from the Shandaken portal to the Ashokan Reservoir. The Schoharie Reservoir was reported to be at seven percent capacity. Water conveyed from the Schoharie into the Esopus through the portal was laden with silt, which would interfere with the imminent spawning of trout. To prevent stress on the fish population, anglers were asked to refrain from fishing the creek.

In the Town of Olive, the Ashokan Reservoir, which supplies drinking water to New York City, as well as to New Paltz and several other upstate communities, was at 64 percent capacity as of October 24. Normally at this time of year, the reservoir is at 76 percent.

On October 20, before the weekend rain, Larry Allen, Jr., of the Woodstock Water and Sewer Department, said the town’s water supply was not experiencing problems. A notice posted on the town website observes that private wells might be threatened, stating, “We urge homeowners outside the Water District to pay close attention to their water usage and availability. We will keep Water District customers informed if strict water conservation measures are called for. In the meantime, everyone should do their best to conserve water whether it be officially called for or not.”

Ylitalo is one of those Woodstock homeowners, with water supplied by a shallow, hand-dug, spring-fed well. The water level, usually 12 to 16 inches deep, had dropped down to two inches over the past couple of months. When the pump didn’t turn on recently, he resorted to hauling water from the stream in front of his house. “It happens about once every seven years,” he said. “I don’t mind having a little time now and then to feel like I’m living a pioneering lifestyle. But some people freak out. For me, the worst was having to go to a laundromat.” He’s thinking of having a deep well drilled, but he says, “I like the water from this well.”

The weekend rain brought the level in the well up to about five inches. Hopefully more rain is coming to keep Ylitalo’s pump going, give the trout clear water for spawning, and replenish local reservoirs.

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