Does Saugerties have enough water to grow?

Photo by Dion Ogust

What a difference a year makes. Last year, parts of Saugerties were underwater from Tropical Storm Irene’s heavy rains. This year, some residents are worried about a possible drought because of the warm, dry spring.

And as the town considers another large project, old concerns over municipal water supply sustainability are sure to come to the surface. In 2010, a conservation group called Protect the Plattekill Creek & Watershed, made up of creek side residents who felt the flow of the Plattekill beneath the Blue Mountain Reservoir was much less than it had been, hired Stone Ridge hydrologist Paul Rubin to study the situation. Collecting data from streams flowing into the reservoir, and making comparisons with similar watersheds, Rubin concluded that Saugerties was just about at capacity. If the demand for municipal water grew, water would have to be rationed during a drought period, said Rubin.

The village, which administers reservoir and municipal water distribution, pointed to a DEC limit of 1.8 million gallons per day – about double what it uses in an average day. But the conservation group produced 50-year-old court documents that seemed to suggest that the number was arbitrary, and that no real scientific evaluation of the watershed had ever been done.

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The village didn’t exactly endorse the findings, although it took the concern seriously. The water department installed a meter at the reservoir’s outlet to measure capacity (usage + outflow, assuming water level in the 9-12 million gallon reservoir should be a constant). Water department superintendent Michael Hopf said the average metered outflow has been 96 million gallons per day. That’s more than enough, so can the conservationists rest? Not yet, says Rubin, who calls the installation of the meter “a good start” but points out that there was never any question that the reservoir had more than enough water for most of the year. The question is: will there be enough water during droughts? Rubin says as the water department accumulates outflow data, comparisons can be made to data gathered by similar watersheds. If things get tight, there may still be enough water for the time being, but historical models show that more severe droughts are inevitable.

But it might not be worth worrying about. Formerly, leaks accounted for a huge amount of waste – hundreds of thousands of gallons a day. With improved leak detection has come a decrease in waste. Municipal water usage is now about 800,000 gallons a day — lower than it was a few years ago.

Even though there has been little rain and little snowmelt, the reservoir is spring-fed and receives additional water from tributaries and is in good shape. Hopf explained that water from the Plattekill, whose source is up near Hunter Mountain in Greene County, flows into Saugerties and into the reservoir, then out of the reservoir and down to the Esopus Creek and Hudson River.

“Right now I don’t see that we will have a need for water restrictions,” Hopf said. “But it’s too soon to tell.”

The village has about 1,600 hook-ups while the town has about 1,900, according to water department records. The town uses about 450,000 gallons per day; the village, 342,000 gallons.

Hopf said the village continues to explore other sources of water, whether it be a ground level source such as the reservoir, the possibility of digging a well, or making use of the Esopus Creek or Hudson River.

Hopf said that while neither the Esopus Creek nor Hudson River “are as pristine as the Blue Mountain Reservoir,” a number of other communities use them as their main source of potable water.
Related articles:
Village says reservoir has plenty to spare (July 2010)

Consultant says village doesn’t have enough water for planned development (November 2010)

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