Checking the levels: Phoenicia, Woodstock OK; Cooper Lake is low

Standing Rock support demonstration at Cooper Lake. (photo by Dion Ogust)

Standing Rock support demonstration at Cooper Lake. (photo by Dion Ogust)

Thanks to several days of rain or snow in the past two months, the region’s drought has lessened, but reservoirs are still low, and some communities continue to encourage residents to conserve water. Meanwhile, the issue of protecting water came to Cooper Lake with a demonstration in support of the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, where Native American tribes are protesting the construction of a natural gas pipeline which they say endangers their water supply.

After a summer of relatively low rainfall, drought hit the Hudson Valley in September, when less than an inch of rain fell during a month that usually receives over four inches. October was somewhat better, with 2.9 inches of rain, as opposed to a norm of 3.68 inches.


Thanks to two inches of precipitation in mid-November, the Phoenicia Water District is now in good shape. The back-up well that was in use for a short period in October has gone offline. Water commissioner Rick Ricciardella detected and fixed a number of leaks in the system, resulting in lowered consumption, and officials say there is adequate water for Phoenicia customers.

However, the Ashokan Reservoir, one of the sources of drinking water for New York City, is currently at 57 percent capacity, considerably lower than the normal level of 77 percent for this time of year.

Woodstock’s water system has not experienced problems this summer or fall, but a message on the town website remains, reassuring residents that there is no water alert but encouraging conservation, while warning that wells outside the water district may be threatened. In the Woodstock hamlet of Willow, Bill Ylitalo’s well is one of those that dried up for about a week in October but has been replenished by the rain. On the snowy morning of November 21, he reported, “The two plus inches of rain we had last week really helped. I did three loads of laundry this weekend. Hoping this snow melts and helps the water table.”


Cooper Lake at 65 percent

At Cooper Lake, which supplies drinking water to the city of Kingston, the water level is down nine feet, said Kingston water superintendent Judith Hansen. This time of year, the level generally reaches its lowest point in the cycle, usually going down to about 85 percent of total capacity. Now it’s at 65 percent. Kingston has gone from a drought alert to a drought warning, with notices asking customers to do whatever they can to conserve water, plus educational outreach to help them do it. If the level drops to 50 percent, there will be mandatory restrictions on water use.

The gathering held on Cooper Lake’s shore on November 19 drew about 150 people to sing Native American songs, hear poems to Standing Rock, and share prayers for the earth and water. Two women who had recently visited the North Dakota encampment reported that protestors need money for tents and warm clothing to continue their vigil. The women also recommended divestment in Citibank, Wells Fargo, and TD Bank, which are bankrolling the pipeline construction. On November 20, Federal troops tried to dispel the non-violent demonstration by firing rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons that soaked protestors despite the 25-degree weather.

Cooper Lake was an appropriate location for a ceremony to express solidarity with the Native American water-protectors, given that last year, local activists won the fight to prevent Niagara Bottling from buying part of the lake’s water for profit.

It has been said that due to pollution and climate change, water may some day be more precious than fossil fuels. Perhaps droughts are nature’s way of making us aware of the need to protect our water resources.