Despite the “completely new situation” that the Village of New Paltz water supply is currently facing, with its largest municipal reservoir taken offline due to contamination from a fuel-line break, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is plowing ahead with its long-awaited plan to shut down the Catskill Aqueduct for 30 days beginning on March 23. A clearly exasperated mayor Tim Rogers said at the end of the February 26 Village Board meeting that he had met with DEP representatives and begged them to be more flexible, considering the Village’s latest water woes, but received no indication of any willingness to postpone the shutdown, nor to provide any financial support beyond that already pledged.
“I asked if they’d help pay for the design changes to get the water [from the aqueduct, normally pumped into the contaminated Reservoir #4] up to the upland reservoirs, and was told no. That’s not cheap,” Rogers said. Another option, to pump the water directly into the plant, bypassing Reservoir #4, would require a new valve, which DEP also refused to fund. The only alternative being offered is to tap the temporary pipe from the Delaware Aqueduct, but that’s “very expensive water,” and the pipe only runs nearby Reservoir #4, he said. According to the mayor, even the price of Catskill Aqueduct water has gone up “289 percent in the last sixteen years.”
Rogers noted that DEP has been very slow in releasing funding for improvements to the Village’s water system that the agency pledged years ago to compensate for the inconvenience of the shutdowns and the necessity of finding alternate water sources. “It takes such an incredibly long time to get that money back” after submitting vouchers, he said. “We are ratepayers. We should not be throwing money at temporary solutions…I think we need to be our ratepayers’ advocate.”
Relying on the water that accumulates naturally in the upland reservoirs is too risky in the event of any sort of scenario that would increase demand during the shutdown period, Rogers said. “We cannot have New Paltz Water Emergency 2.0. What happens if we have a water main break? What happens if we have a structure fire?”
Rogers said that he had already reached out to state senator Jen Metzger, US senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner Basil Seggos, in hopes that they can bring some pressure to bear on DEP officials. “We’ve been very accommodating,” the mayor said. “We need them to be a better partner.”