With water district lawsuit dragging on, New Paltz pipeline increasingly likely

In light of a lawsuit with no clear end in sight, New York City officials appear close to abandoning the funding of water district #5, which would tap into an aquifer under Plains Road in New Paltz to provide water while the Catskill Aqueduct is shut down for repairs. A meeting is scheduled for June 29 to discuss a proposed temporary New Paltz water pipeline. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

In light of a lawsuit with no clear end in sight, New York City officials appear close to abandoning the funding of water district #5, which would tap into an aquifer under Plains Road to provide water while the Catskill Aqueduct is shut down for repairs. At a meeting on June 29, they will present plans to build a temporary water line from the Delaware Aqueduct instead. While that option has been discussed at village board meetings, town officials — with whom the New York City deal was struck — have not been told that developing the new district is officially off the table.

The water questions generate mixed feelings among Plains Road residents. Many of them are dissatisfied with the quality of their well water, and some have said at public meetings that it’s declined as the number of nearby homes has risen. On the other hand, even running test wells was enough to impact the wells of nearby residents who are quite content with their water quality, suggesting to them that the opting out of municipal water won’t be a real choice if the district is created.

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Moreover, municipal water to some suggests municipal control; district users will eventually have to pay the government for water, and would give up some control over their water. One resident, who declined to be named, noted that while there are no plans to add fluoride to municipal water, district users would have little choice if that decision were made in the future. The cost question is dismissed by district supporters, who say that the only real difference is that well users don’t know when they will have to spend money to replace a pump. The fluoride issue, presented as a theoretical possibility only, speaks to the inherent tension in a desire for autonomy when it comes to water, which is an inherently shared resource.

What matters most is that there is a pending lawsuit, which has put the entire water district project on hold until it can be settled or is decided by a Supreme Court Justice. The plaintiffs have apparently not agreed to any offers yet made by town officials, despite Supervisor Neil Bettez telling one reporter, “We are willing to do anything to make this work.” The legal action could be grounds for New York City officials to terminate the contract with the town, but that hasn’t happened, at least not yet.

The uncertainty has led to the temporary pipeline to be planned. It would be used during the shutdowns, which could last up to ten weeks each and are expected to occur in 2018, ’19 and ’20 and then be removed. The advantage village and town officials see in developing water district #5 is that it would leave the community with a backup supply, something which New Paltz alone among communities tapped into the New York City system lacks. That system, which draws water from a wide swath of the state to provide for the massive needs of its millions of residents, once led County Executive Mike Hein to liken Ulster County to a territories occupied for the exploitation of natural resources.

The informational meeting will be held in the community center on Veterans Drive on Thursday, June 29 at 6 p.m.

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