Upwards of two dozen gathered at Inquiring Mind bookstore on Friday evening, Dec. 12 to watch “Tapped,” a documentary film which takes a critical stance on the bottled water industry. The film alleges significant environmental and health damage, as well as an improper use of the common public resource of water for private corporate profit.
The film was presented by Kingstoncitizens.org, a group which has led the charge against a bottling plant proposed for the former IBM location in the town of Ulster. Niagara Bottling Company is seeking to purchase up to 1.75 million gallons of water per day from Cooper Lake, the city of Kingston’s water supply, which is located in Woodstock.
The integrity of the water supply has been a major issue for Kingston and Woodstock. For Saugerties, the main issue of concern is contamination of the Esopus Creek as a result of discharges.
“This is really a total watershed issue,” said Mary McNamara of Esopus Creek Conservancy.
Both the town and village of Saugerties have sought to be listed as “interested agencies” in the review process, which is being conducted by the town of Ulster. However, interested agency status does not confer any power on a municipality so designated. “If we carry more weight as a municipality during the review process, it is because we represent the interests of a constituency, not because we have any special status as part of SEQR,” said village Trustee Patrick Landewe in an email.
Following the film, some members of the audience expressed concern that a small group of officials, some unelected, in other towns were able to make decisions that would affect the lives of many people in different communities. Larry Ulfik of Saugerties Transition, the local branch of an international sustainability group, asked for the names and addresses of members of the Ulster Town Board and the Kingston Water Board, the two agencies in control of decision-making at this point. Resident Vivian Beatrice questioned the authority of the Kingston Water Board to sell Cooper Lake water to anyone other than residents of Kingston.
McNamara used detailed maps of the Esopus Watershed to explain how the proposed plant would be positioned to discharge wastewater into the Lower Esopus, about five miles from the Saugerties town line. “This is a water body that’s been challenged lately by turbid water releases from the Ashokan Reservoir,” she said. “It’s trying to heal and this would add another stressor to the system.”
Concerns about this wastewater include the increased volume, with the potential to erode the shoreline, and potential contamination by the plastic pellets involved in the manufacture of the bottles that could enter the creek during a flood, which is possible given the proposed location. Another concern is contamination in the discharged water. The purification process involves the removal of naturally occurring heavy metals and unnaturally occurring chemicals, such as those from pharmaceutical waste, and so the water discharged would necessarily include higher concentrations of these substances.
“Niagara has had several lawsuits brought related to dumped wastewater,” said Rebecca Martin of Kingstoncitizens.org.
The public comment period is from Dec. 22 to Jan. 22. Kingstoncitizens.org is seeking to increase that period by another month. Representative Jennifer Schwartz Berky said comments should be directed to the Ulster Town Board. (Town of Ulster Town Hall, 1 Town Hall Dr., Lake Katrine, N.Y. 12449.)
Plant opponents were recently buoyed by the denial of $10.8 million in state economic development aid which was sought by the company. But its application for tax breaks through the State Up NY program are still pending, which Martin said could be even more valuable.
Organizers said the positions on this issue taken by the Saugerties town and village boards should carry weight. Residents were urged to communicate their concerns to those boards without delay. (Village Hall, 43 Partition St.; Town Hall, 4 High St.)