The small southwest corner of Hasbrouck Park in the Village of New Paltz just became a municipal gold mine. In an ongoing effort to create more locally sourced wells for municipal water, the Village government has been conducting tests throughout various parcels that it owns to tap into underground aquifers as part of a $3 million state grant award to locate more permanent drinking water options (rather than relying solely on the New York City-owned Catskill Aqueduct line). Along with other underground water sources, hydrological engineers contracted by the Village also discovered bedrock wells near the northern edge of the Moriello Pool parkland that were clean and yield upwards of 400 gallons per minute.
While this was municipally owned land, there was still a major hitch. “Because the Town and Village jointly own the property and have received state and federal funding to enhance the park, we were not legally able to just utilize that quarter of an acre without replacing it with parkland of ‘equal value,’” mayor Tim Rogers explained to a small group of stakeholders and representatives at the ribbon-cutting ceremony under the shelter of trees outside of St. Joseph’s Church.
“New York State cares deeply about parklands within New York State, and so we suggested adding several parks or enlarging existing parks in our community, including River-to-Ridge. But the one that they believed added the most value was this 1,000-square-foot of asphalt at the corner of Elting and Mohonk Avenue,” Rogers continued. “In fact, they believed it was 15 times more valuable than the .25 acres of woodland behind the old Town Hall property!”
The value of the land the Village took away from Moriello Park was considered to be approximately $600, according to Rogers, but the 1,000 square feet of removed asphalt and green space added to Hasbrouck Park was valued at $37,500.
This is only one hoop out of a series that the village government had to jump through to dig the wells, allow them to be connected to the rest of the municipal water system and to find ways of turning a dangerous, steep intersection from a warped slope of buckled asphalt into a piece of green infrastructure that would help retain stormwater runoff and purify it before it made its way to the Wallkill River. This year the river has suffered from toxic algal blooms that are in part a result of increased nutrient levels of untreated stormwater runoff. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has also identified the Wallkill River and several of its tributaries as “impaired” based on the Clean Water Act, citing pollutants like phosphorus and fecal matter.
Then in stepped Town supervisor Neil Bettez, who is not only an expert in green infrastructure, but also a member of the Wallkill Watershed Alliance. “Neil got very excited about ways we could utilize this tiny piece of land to help slow stormwater runoff before it got to the Wallkill,” said Rogers. “Neil doesn’t just Google ‘green infrastructure’ to get ideas; he has a PhD in Biology,” said the mayor with a laugh.
Supervisor Bettez contacted then-State senator Jen Metzger, who helped them secure $50,000 from the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporations Green Innovation Grant Program to help fund a design that included removing pavement, opening up an existing culvert, digging a large trench filled with rock, gravel and sand and then covering it over with turf and plants. What this does, according to Bettez, is to minimize impervious surfaces, which means less stormwater runoff and allows for any runoff to be slowed down enough by this ditch, filtered through the sand and gravel and rock to help eliminate the phosphorus and other pollutants and send cleaner, slower-moving water to the Wallkill River.
“There was a move for a long time to create ‘sanitary cities,’ which meant that they just wanted to push everything out of the cities. All the garbage all of the sewage, get it out,” explained Bettez. “Now, there is a move toward ‘sustainable cities.’ We need to find ways of creating simpler, even less-expensive ways of slowing runoff down – ways of cleaning it, which is what vegetation does! When it rains, all of the water goes rushing off the streets and into a drainage ditch and surges into the Wallkill River. That runoff contains all kinds of contaminants from fossil fuels, from tires, from electric vehicles as well, pet waste as well. And all of this contains nitrogen and phosphorus and chemicals that create algal blooms and harm the quality of our rivers and watersheds and everything that lives off those watersheds, including us.”
Slowing this water down by removing more impervious surfaces is one small-but-critical step toward greening the Village and healing the Wallkill River. “Phosphorous [one of the key ingredients leading to toxic algal blooms in recreational waterways] has a positive charge, while soil has a negative charge, so it binds to the dirt, and then plants take up that nutrients and it doesn’t end up plaguing our rivers.”
Metzger, now the Democratic candidate for Ulster County executive, said she was “thrilled to be able to support this project,” noting, “We’re in the midst of a climate crisis. We’re experiencing floods and droughts and we need to find economic and environmental ways of addressing these impacts, which is exactly what this project does. Simpler, more natural features are cleaner, cheaper and more cost-effective.”
She went on to say that “We’re so fortunate to have intelligent, thoughtful leaders like Tim and Neil, whose tenacity on water issues is admirable. You’ve been taking it on for years, to make sure that your residents have adequate supplies of clean drinking water while working equally as hard to protect the quality of that water.” Metzger mentioned that, while searching for wells or putting in rock, dirt, sand and plant basins might not be the sexiest thing, it is certainly one of the “most important things you can be doing. Protecting our water sources is critical. Water is life.”
Another benefit, Rogers and Bettez pointed out, was that the removal of that piece of intersection “is a safety improvement,” as a sidewalk from the park simply ran into the intersection and that intersection had a blind spot. Now it’s a seamless transition from the park to the green space and the basketball courts; the roadway is safer, and two parking spaces will be painted in, to create a buffer from the road to the park. “We’re also going to create a crosswalk here,” said Rogers, pointing from the end of the sidewalk to the newly spruced-up green area and draining site to St. Joseph’s Church.
What spurred on this search for municipal water sources was when the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was making plans to do major renovations and upgrades to the century-old Catskill Aqueduct that supplies the lion’s share of water to New York City from the Ashokan Reservoir. There were shutdowns planned in certain areas, and the unknowns when taking on a project that involves antiquated technology and a gravity-fed system of transporting water more than 100 miles. To that end, Village government in New Paltz, led by former mayor Jason West and then-existing mayor Tim Rogers went on a water-seeking mission, with funds and grants that they sourced from every available agency to get more permanent water supplies on which the community could rely.
“Being able to draw water from the Catskill Aqueduct [which runs parallel to Butterville and Albany Post roads in the Town of New Paltz] is such a valuable resource,” said Rogers. “We’re so fortunate to have that resource, but it’s expensive. Right now, we get between 40 and 60 percent of our water from the DEP; I’d like to see it go down to five percent or ten percent. That would be fantastic and a lot more economically feasible for us. This small project is just one example of ways in which we can do that. Being prepared is everything in government, and that’s what we’re always trying to do.”