New Paltz water supply tests clean; more flushing to be done before advisory will be lifted

Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan speaking at today’s press conference. (Photo by Erin Quinn)

No measurable amounts of petroleum or other volatile organic compounds have been found in the village of New Paltz Water supply according to Mayor Tim Rogers and Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan at a press conference held today outside of Village Hall.

“We have encouraging news,” said Ryan who was flanked by members of the local police department, fire department, town and village officials, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC,) NYS Department of Public Health (DOH) in response to the water advisory that was put into effect Monday asking residents not to drink or cook with the village tap water until further notice. “All of the samples that have been collected from the village reservoirs, water tanks and throughout the system have come back showing non-detectable levels for petroleum compounds.”

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The results come after the village bypassed the contaminated reservoir earlier this week, used absorbent pads on the surface of the water, and flushed out the system.

According to Ryan and Rogers, the DEC and the DOH as well as the village’s water treatment plant operators have all collected samples and none of them show any levels of contaminants to pose a concern to residents. That said “we will continue to flush the water and re-test it until we feel comfortable,” said the county executive. “Our paramount concern is the health and well-being of our residents.”

The advisory will remain in effect until the entire system has been flushed and the water re-tested to the satisfaction of all agencies involved. Potable water stations and bottled water will continue to be offered to residents at various sites throughout the village and SUNY New Paltz Campus as well as at the New Paltz Central School Districts.

Asked why the advisory did not discourage residents from bathing in the possibly-contaminated water while testing was being done, a representative from the Department of Health said that “petroleum can be dangerous if ingested but not if it is just on the skin.”

 

Finding the cause

So, what happened? According to Mayor Rogers, after an investigation, they believe that when a third party contractor installed a new filtration system at the water treatment plant off of Mountain Rest Road that they damaged a fuel line that fed the plant’s heating system. “When winter came around and the heat was turned on, we believe that some of the oil may have leaked from that line and found its way into the ground and eventually the water system.”

The village then bypassed reservoir #4, switching to reservoirs 1-3, located upland, and the Catskill Aqueduct.

“At first we wondered if maybe the reported tastes and smells had something to do with the aqueduct,” said Rogers. “They’ve taken a 100-year old pipe-line and scraped off all of those decades of biofilm and maybe we just weren’t used to the taste of the water without the residuals of the biofilm? We were going through every possible scenario.”

The plant operators which include Environmental Consultations and the Village Department of Public Works, were working day and night trying to figure out where this odor could be coming from.

“We followed the tributary a mile upstream to look for any signs of petroleum which you can usually see on leaves or in the water in calm spots but we couldn’t find anything,” Chris Jaeger the plant operator. “We (along with the DEC) went door to door to asking residents who lived above the reservoir line if they noticed anything amiss but they hadn’t.  There was an eight-foot-by-eight-foot area in the reservoir that was fed by the tributary and they tested that area and found nothing.

“Monday, we walked all around the reservoir and besides that one open area it was covered with ice,” said Yeager. Tuesday morning, after a warmer night, DPW employee John Lawlor went to reservoir #4 which then had melted edge around it. “I didn’t see anything at first but then I ran my hands through it and this is what I saw,” he said, sharing a video on his phone that showed an oil-like sheen with rainbow colors along the water’s edge. That’s when the various agencies narrowed in on the treatment plant and the compromised fuel line was discovered and replaced.

As for how much oil may have gotten into the ground or water, Mayor Rogers said that “I don’t have those numbers right now. I know how much oil we’ve used from that furnace. I have the bills, but I don’t have any exact amounts at this moment.” He said that from his understanding 70 percent of the fuel is converted into heat and the other 30 percent is run back through the line to the furnace which is the portion that may have found its way to the water system.

“We test for these volatile compounds each year and the last time we did so was in March of 2019 and we were prepared to test them again in one month’s time,” said the mayor.

He deferred to the DEC representative who said that they have begun remediation and will bring in a remediation team with a plan to ensure that any possible contaminants are cleaned up. They have already put in absorbent booms and pads in the reservoir and will continue to monitor the municipal water source.

Asked if the village had a part in the decision to send SUNY New Paltz’s on-campus students home through the weekend, Mayor Rogers said that was a decision made by college officials in coordination with state officials. “I think after lengthy discussions they decided that it would be more helpful and safer in this situation to have less people on a 24/7 basis until the advisory was lifted.”

Both the mayor and Ryan complimented each other on the collective leadership and teamwork between the village, town, county and state agencies. “When I called the governor’s office to let them know about our situation, I never anticipated this type of response,” said the mayor. “I’m blown away by level of responsiveness we’ve had from the State and the DEC and DOH and governor’s office.”

“I can’t say enough about the collective teamwork that has gone on here and continues to go on, much of it all through the night to try and resolve this situation,” said Ryan. “I want to thank Mayor Tim Rogers for his leadership.”

Ryan said that the village will continue to flush the water lines and take more samples on Thursday. “The advisory was put in and remains in effect due to an abundance of caution for public health,” said the county executive. Rogers said that he hopes the results come back reaffirming that there are no measurable contaminants and that the advisory can be lifted.

Where to get water

  • Village Hall (Plattekill Ave.) (bottled water and tank)
  • Meadowbrook apartments (off Henry W. Dubois Dr.) (water tank)
  • Town and Country apartments (off Huguenot St.) (water tank)
  • Huguenot Park apartments (Chestnut St.) (water tank)
  • SUNY New Paltz Peregrine Dining Hall (water tank)
  • SUNY New Paltz Student Union Building (bottled water)

The self-serve water tanks can be used 24/7. Bottled water distribution for the general public is 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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