The New Paltz Village Board continued to drill down to an alternate water source to use when the New York City aqueduct will be offline at a special meeting held on November 5. The aqueduct is expected to be turned off for two ten-week periods, once in 2016 and again in 2017, and although the New York City Department of Environmental Protection is providing financial assistance, the Village Board remains the body doing the hard work of identifying that alternate source.
As explained by engineer David Clouser, one or more sources which can produce 610 gallons per minute are necessary to meet the village’s current needs. Four sources have been considered: the Wallkill River, aquifers under Plains Road, the aquifer under the Plesser property adjacent to the Thruway and hooking up to the Town of Lloyd’s supply. While it’s only needed to be a temporary fix, board members said that given the time and money invested, if any of the solutions could be made permanent, then a second look at becoming independent of the New York City aqueduct would be worth considering.
Some of the techniques used to treat water only for short periods of time, because they are less expensive to install, could cost more over the long haul, Clouser said. So knowing if the plan is for temporary outages or a permanent new source in advance is important.
In addition to the different requirements that temporary and permanent sources have, there are both long- and short-term costs to be evaluated. The Wallkill River could easily provide enough water, but that would mean drawing drinking water from a source that’s used for a lot of dumping — and occasional untreated sewage discharges — upriver. That was highlighted in a recent report by Riverkeeper, which pointed to unsafe levels of bacteria in the river thanks to these human actions. While Clouser said that the river’s water is “eminently treatable” to make it safe for drinking, board members want to have a better idea about how much it would cost to treat the river water over the long haul.
That answer isn’t an easy one to pin down. Public Works Commissioner Bleu Terwilliger said it would require running a pilot of four to six months and treating and testing the water to determine exactly what will be required. Given a desire to simply get a rough estimate, one option suggested was to look at the costs borne by the Poughkeepsie system, under the assumption that the Hudson and Wallkill rivers have similar treatment requirements.
The river has other problems, too. The likely places from which to draw the water, while not in the flood plain, are in the FEMA-designated floodway, Clouser said. That means it’s not likely to be flooded, but it’s the channel that a flood could pass through, making the location problematic. That could be resolved by getting FEMA to change its map, which may not be accurate, or by applying for a permit with the agency while leaving its map intact. That would entail an individual application to FEMA, an intensive process that could take years to complete; if the map is changed to remove the site from the floodway, it would mean that the application would fall under the “national permit,” which is always granted if certain requirements are met.
Both the Lloyd hookup and the Plesser property concern board members because of distance and cost. In addition, if the Wildberry Lodge water park is eventually built on that land, it could use more of the underlying aquifer than expected, again leaving the village vulnerable. Plains Road exploration, in the meantime, is now the subject of a lawsuit by neighbors of the test wells who believe their own wells were negatively impacted by that process.
Conservation measures implemented by all water users should, in time, cut the amount of water needed by anywhere from five to 15%, but none of those figures include population growth, so could be outstripped in the future. It could also take two to three years for conservation to reach its potential. Board members are also preparing to make improvements to the village’s reservoir, including dredging it to add capacity and improving other technical aspects.
Wallkill water could become less costly to treat if communities act in a more conscientious manner, and trustee Ariana Basco expressed that this is a moment to focus on that idea. However, to Tom Rocco, the cost in the short term is the one of most concern.
Rocco and Basco were reluctant to rule out the Plesser source, despite its higher cost and possible short-term nature. Deputy mayor Rebecca Rotzler, mayor Jason West and trustee Sally Rhoads were more eager to eliminate it from the list and focus on how to manage the Wallkill and Plains Road sources.
“I would rather dig a well in Hasbrouck Park” than use the Plesser source, said Rhoads, who moved to formally take it off the list. Her motion died without a second.
Neighbors on Plains Road were promised to be hooked up to village water — and charged only village rates, even if they live beyond the line — if that source is tapped. For their part, they call into question the volume of water actually available and the neutrality of David Clouser, who serves both as village engineer and as a consultant through his firm. They encouraged the board to return to New York City water after the aqueduct repairs are complete.