Interested in the Esopus Creek turbidity issue? Drop by a public informational meeting this Thursday, Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. at the Senior Center.
Bowing to pressure from creekside communities, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) halted releases of muddy water from the Ashokan Reservoir into the lower Esopus Creek on Jan. 28. A statement from DEP Commissioner Cas Holloway explained that “water quality has improved faster than we expected when we committed to ending turbid releases by February 13.”
Towns, residents, and businesses along the lower Esopus had been objecting to the muddy discharges sent down the river through the Ashokan Center release channel, aimed at keeping sediment, said to originate in the upper Esopus, out of New York City’s drinking water. The lower Esopus has been running brown since early October, with reported actual or potential negative impacts on fish habitat, riverside septic systems, irrigation of farmland, public beaches, and Town of Esopus water supply.
In light of the releases, the Lower Esopus Watershed Partnership, a group which contains representatives from the City of Kingston, Hudson River Watershed Alliance, the Towns of Hurley, Marbletown, Olive, Saugerties, Ulster, the Village of Saugerties and the Ulster County Department of the Environment, will hold a series of informational seminars on turbidity and other issues related to the health of Esopus Creek. A forum is schedule for Thursday, February 10 from 7-9 p.m. at the Frank D. Greco Memorial Senior Center in Saugerties.
“The waterfront is a valuable part of our quality of life in Saugerties,” said village Mayor Bill Murphy. “The turbidity issue reminds us that we cannot afford to sit idly and allow the creek to be harmed by activities upstream from us. This is opportunity to work together to solve these problems.”
“Even though DEP has recently stopped releasing turbid water, we still have a long way to go to restore the Esopus Creek eco-system,” added village Trustee Kelly Myers. “We must be vigilant protectors of our natural resources and work closely with government agencies to create appropriate regulations for use of the Ashokan release channel.”
The forum in Saugerties will address recent turbidity issues and efforts to improve stream health in the future. It will include official presentations by NYC DEP, NYS DEC and Ulster County on the underlying sources and causes of turbidity in the watershed and the impacts of the prolonged, high-volume turbid flows in the Lower Esopus Creek. Discussion will focus on the impacts to the communities in the region that depend upon the creek as well as the steps that will be taken to correct the situation.
The general public is invited to attend to get the facts, share concerns and ask questions.
David and Goliath situation
Ulster County Executive Michael Hein attributed the DEP’s sudden turnaround to a meeting convened in his office on the same day. “It wasn’t magic,” he said. “We had the attorney general, the watershed inspector general, the Federal EPA, the State Department of Health, Senator Bonacic, a representative from Congressman Hinchey’s office, the president of Riverkeeper — and we had previously filed our intent to move forward with a lawsuit against the city under the Federal Clean Water Act.”
Friday’s statement by the DEP added that clear water from the reservoir was being sent down the river to flush out the turbidity: “Starting today, clear water is now flowing through the waste channel and will continue for approximately three days, for a total release of 1.5 billion gallons — which is equivalent to three times the volume of water in the lower Esopus Creek.”
Hein stated, “We are also demanding that New York City fund an independent study of the damage caused and provide Ulster County with a seat at the table in decision-making processes. This step has the potential to help reshape the relationship between the residents of Ulster County and the DEP.”
Does that mean that upstaters may get their way with some of the DEP decisions they’ve been frustrated by for years, such as the closing of the Lemon Squeeze, the shortcut across the reservoir?
“There’s work still in front of us,” said Hein. “A lot will be determined through people’s actions. But this is unprecedented. It’s a David-and-Goliath situation in which David won.”
He also gave credit to Saugerties Assemblyman Pete Lopez, whose “independent work on this issue helped keep it in the forefront locally and in Albany.”
Hein said articles in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post also contributed to pressure on the city.
Riverkeeper, the Hudson River watchdog group, has been examining the turbidity issue and had also considered suing the DEP. The organization’s executive director, Paul Gallay, remarked, “DEP’s announcement was a great turning point, but Riverkeeper intends to stay fully involved until we are sure that there has been a complete and accurate damage assessment, and arrangements for proper compensation are made. We are concerned about both the communities that host the water supply and its end users and want to make certain that solutions are in place to prevent a reoccurrence.”
Holloway also noted, “Two capital projects already underway — the Croton Water Filtration Plant and the Catskill/Delaware Interconnect Tunnel, which cost more than $3 billion combined — will provide alternative water sources for the city in the coming years and essentially eliminate our need to use the waste channel to make highly turbid releases. In addition, we will consistently engage our regulatory partners, the people of Ulster County, and other stakeholders when events arise that could increase turbidity in the water system, and better detail how DEP plans to address it.”