Talks continued last week about how New Paltz will find an alternate water supply in 2016 during a ten-week shutoff of the Catskill Aqueduct. Either way, New Paltz can expect some help from New York City, according to Todd West, with the city’s Bureau of Water Supply.
“We have committed to provide funding to a backup supply. That’s a key point here,” West told local officials on Aug. 15. “But the backup supply is not identified yet right now, so there’s no dollar amount associated with that.”
New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection oversees the aqueducts that feed the metropolis with drinking water from upstate reservoirs. Locally, the Village of New Paltz is a beneficiary of that water, tapping into the city’s supply.
On average, New Paltz uses between 700,000 gallons and 1 million gallons of water each day. Town water users — who purchase water from the village — make up a fraction of that use at 70,000 gallons a day.
The city needs to shut down the Catskill Aqueduct to do repairs on major leaks in the system, which dates back to 1915. They plan to shut down for ten weeks in 2016 and another ten weeks in 2017. Without NYC water, New Paltz’s village backup water supply only has enough H2O for five days.
During their talks with mayor Jason West in the village, the DEP has tested a number of locations for a backup supply. One of those was the Wallkill River, which — despite recently testing positive for fecal pollution — the DEP said could be treated and used for drinking water. It’s unclear how much that would cost.
Other options, like connecting to water in Lloyd or Gardiner, would cost $10 million. Finding a good water supply locally could potentially drop that to $7 million.
New York City officials took aim at one rumor that has cropped up as New Paltz’s leaders have discussed the water situation. “The city is not looking to get users off of its system, but it’s really important that any user on our system has a backup supply to them,” Todd West said.
Brinnier & Larios is the engineering firm behind the village’s water infrastructure. Dennis Larios tried to reassure village trustees during their Aug. 14 meeting.
“The 2016-2017 work is not set in stone,” the engineer said. “Their schedule could change.”
When Jason West was mayor the first time, he heard from the DEP about the shutoff back in 2004. At that time they predicted that the work would take place in 2011. Delays pushed back the progress.
Trustee Sally Rhoads said she sees an ever-ticking clock counting down to the shutoff. “If they intend to start this in 2016, that’s more than tight,” she said.
Mayor West wasn’t present at either Wednesday’s or Thursday’s meetings, due to a family emergency. However, he submitted a lengthy letter to the editor last week detailing his frustration with town supervisor Susan Zimet edging into the water discussion with the DEP.
“Zimet has inserted herself into negotiations she is not party to,” the mayor wrote.
The supervisor has previously said she thinks the town needs to get off of the village’s system and start one of its own. She said she became involved when she realized the DEP had missed potential well sites located in the town.
“We are not negotiating in any way on behalf of the village. It’s not our role. That’s not our place. We just have water. We wanted them to know about it,” she said.
Village Board members said they felt excluded from whatever work Mayor West has done so far on the backup water supply. A recent draft report addressing the water shutoff situation was news to the trustees.
Either way, New York City faces some pushback if New Paltz loses water.
“Their schedule is very optimistic. Politically, they’d have trouble shutting anyone off that’s not prepared for the shutdown — especially a community with a college in it,” Larios said. “Politically and legally that’d be very difficult.”
New York City would provide their share of money for building the backup water supply, but New Paltz would be responsible to build it, city officials said.
Town and village officials plan to meet with representatives from SUNY New Paltz — one of the system’s main water users — during a joint meeting on Sept. 11.
“We are all in this together because water is water,” village Trustee Rhoads said.