250 Show Up to Get Details of Desalination Plant (VIDEO)

Expense, health, energy, and environmental shortcomings of proposed water plant presented.


A panel of seven environmentalists and experts shared information on the history of Rockland County’s water supply, corporate details of United Water and its parent company Suez Water, costs of the proposed , ecological importance of Haverstraw Bay and alternate water solutions at a public forum Thursday night. For more than two hours in Clarkstown Town Hall, they presented information and answered questions from the audience of about 250 people of different ages from across the county.

They urged residents to get actively involved in opposing the proposed Hudson River desalination plant by signing the petition, writing letters to government officials, talking to their neighbors about the project, contributing money and attending the March 6 public hearing on it.  Pomona Deputy Mayor Rita Louie set a goal of obtaining 10,000 signatures on the petition by the end of April. She described the plant as being the “biggest issue facing the county in decades.”

“If you don’t want Hudson River coming out of your faucet, you need to act now,” she said. 

Louie challenged people to stand together as Rocklanders and tell local and state elected officials, United Water and the DEC that they do not want Hudson River water as their source of drinking water.

United Water has proposed a desalination plant that would treat Hudson River water to supplement the county’s potable water supply. Several panelists challenged the utility’s claim that additional drinking water was needed. They said more recent studies have been completed that show the county has sufficient sources and also criticized the amount sent from the Lake DeForest Reservoir to United Water’s Bergen County, NJ customers. 

“Albany needs to understand that we were misinformed about what was happening to our bedrock aquifer,” said Patsy Wooters of the Torne Valley Preservation Association.  “We had data from United Water and it was misleading.”

Joining Wooters as panelists were:

  • Elizabeth Schuster of Food & Water Watch
  • Bob Dillon of Rockland RAFT (Residents Against Flooding Tomorrow)
  • Laurie Seeman of Strawtown Studio
  • Manna Jo Greene of Clearwater
  • Gerald Fox, a Rockland realtor
  • Russell Urban-Mead, a hydrologist with Chazen Companies.

Clarkstown Councilwoman Shirley Lasker said the proposed plant needs to be stopped and alternative ways found to meet Rockland’s water needs.  George Potanovic of the Rockland Water Coalition explained the group formed in 2008 when United Water first developed the plan for the desalination plant. 

In her presentation, Wooters noted that three different sources each provide about one-third of the county’s water supply. They are the bedrock aquifer, Lake Deforest Reservoir and the Ramapo River.

Elizabeth Schuster of Washington, DC-based Food & Water Watch, discussed instances of municipalities claiming United Water overcharged, violated the law and did not deliver on their contracts. 

She spoke about an audit performed by Camden, NJ that found United Water used faulty billing practices, which cost the city millions of dollars. Another example she shared was Atlanta, which ended a 20-year contract with the company after four years because of increased maintenance problems as a result of reduced staffing and bills submitted for work not done. She said United Water was indicted for violations of the Clean Water Act in Gary, IN.

The estimated price tag for the proposed plant has risen significantly since it was first proposed.  Bob Dillon of Rockland RAFT said it was forecast at $98 million in 2007 and the latest cost has skyrocketed to between $139.2 and $189.3 million.  He said those figures do not include the expense of personnel or depreciation and other factors.  Additionally, he noted Orange & Rockland Utilities would have to build a substation to power the plant, which would also cost residents money.

“The cost is certain to continue to increase,” he said, predicting annual water bills could rise by $485 to $500. 

Laurie Seeman of Strawtown Studio spoke about Haverstraw Bay as a unique habitat, critical eco system and one of the richest estuaries on the planet.   She said it needs to be protected and should not be used to increase United Water’s profits. 

Clearwater representative Manna Jo Greene said the plant would use 10 million gallons of water daily to produce 7.5 million gallons of potable water using reserve osmosis.  She raised concerns that the processes would not remove all harmful chemicals from the water and that the project itself will produce water that is much more expensive. 

According to Realtor Gerold Fox, residents would have trouble selling their homes because people will not want to drink Hudson River water.  He brought up Ambrey Pond in Stony Point, which had been considered as a location for a reservoir many years ago.

Hydrologist Russell Urban-Mead echoed the theme of utilizing alternative water solutions. He said water conservation should not be overlooked through the use of drip irrigation, native plants and leak detection.  Urban-Mead suggested augmenting the water supply by using berms between parking areas to prevent runoff and examining wastewater recycling processes to recharge the aquifer. Using brine instead of road salt during snow and ice storms can also protect the aquifer.

“We have a sustainable system if we learn to work with it,” he said. “You have aquifer formations that are being used in a moderately sustainable manner.”

At the end of the forum Potanovic expressed satisfaction with the turnout especially with the number of new people.

“A very interested group, a lot of people stayed,” he said. “The cost is certainly a big issue.”

Potanovic said the scope goes beyond the cost to whether the water can be       safely treated.

Issy February 24, 2012 at 11:26 AM
I attended the meeting last night and while there are serious cost and environmental issue related to the desalination plant, there where no serious alternatives expressed. It was suggested that run off water be collect, but where would this be stored? Currently all our water comes from Orange/Rockland counties. In the near future Rockland WILL face a severe and crippling water shortage, either from drought, demand and/or climate change, we need to be prepared: Having an independent source that draws water from outside the immediate aquifer, like the desalination plant will help protect us.
Michael N. Hull February 24, 2012 at 11:59 AM
Issy, I agree. This was a litany of pseudo science about the hazards of desalination, isotope discharge from the Indian Point, global warming and other emotive issues directed with bile towards the company that supplies our water  - United Water.  United Water was even blamed for its being a French company headquartered in Paris.  Now I will confess that I do not particularly like the French, mainly because they are, well ... "French", but towards the end of the Q&A period the audience was given a faint whisper as to where the blame really lies.   Guess what!   It isn't with the French water company! Let me explain; assume each person in RC uses one hundred gallons of water per day and that there are ten million gallons of water available per day. Those numbers mean that no more than one hundred thousand people can have their water needs met with that available supply. When the population exceeds 100,000 one of two things has to occur;  population growth has to stop or an additional supply of 100 gallons of water per day per extra person has got to be found. Where does United Water propose to get more water ..... the Hudson River.  Where is the population growing that requires more water ..... theTown of Ramapo.  My thesis is simple;  one should look to the source of the problem and blame those who permit unfettered population growth in our County rather that pour vitriol on the victim of this growth, United Water, even if it is, regrettably, French.
Michael Gries February 24, 2012 at 12:27 PM
It's obvious we should not have this desalination plant. There are reasons why this solution to water problems is rarely used around the world except in extreme situations. Rockland County gets plenty of rain and if an unlikely spell of drought occurs, we will deal with it then. If Rockland grows too big and needs it, then we can build it. Build the plant, then our taxes and utility costs will rise, then people will continue to leave, then we won't need the plant. Then why build it?
Michael Gries February 24, 2012 at 12:41 PM
The fact that it's a French company is not an issue (a red herring). Besides, Perrier is French. Desalination is a costly solution to what is currently a non-problem.
Watchdog February 24, 2012 at 12:49 PM
Purified water is second only to purified air in our hierarchy of needs and the more sources of purified water I have for my family, the better it is. The real estate interests, career politicians looking for the next "issue" and the environmental wackos may have come together on this issue but ...guess what .....no matter how much property the local government purchases or no matter how hard you try to limit the sources of natural resources needed for everyday living, the Hasidim will continue to reproduce and the local government, the Town of Ramapo, will "find" or create new places for them to live, legally or not and unless you get rid of the source of the "real" problem, St Lawrence, Cornell, Shoenberger, Reda and Lettre, Rockland County is DOOMED.
Watchdog February 24, 2012 at 01:05 PM
About 25 years ago, Spring Valley Water, now United Water, was forced to sell a good deal of their watershed property to the delight of the Town of Clarkstown who saw $$$$$$ in the form of new tax revenues and development fees. Ed Lettre, then a Clarkstown Councilman, and his brother Michael managed to get a large chunk of this property, without having the appropriate resources to build it out and had to sell it to another developer. Now we have Shirley Lasker, another Town Council member, part of a Committee, telling us we do not have enough watershed and we should protect runoff.
Michael N. Hull February 24, 2012 at 01:07 PM
Mr Gries: One very simple solution that costs nothing is that everyone showers only once a week. That takes care of the water problem at a single stroke AND the need for a desalination plant ......... until the population growth means you either put in the desalination plant or stop showering altogether. Hobson Choice?
Issy February 24, 2012 at 01:09 PM
Today it is a non-problem, but what about 10 (20, 30) years from now? During the 1960's we had a prolonged period of drought, that would be unsustainable and devastating with our current water use, what then? "we will deal with it then" is not a solution, there is no magic faucet. It is undeniable that Rockland has a looming water supply issue, United Water did not create this problem, the NY DEC asked them to help solve it. Is the desalination plant the best solution? These hearings will determine that. But a solution there must be.
Watchdog February 24, 2012 at 01:19 PM
Many years ago Clarkstown had a Supervisor by the name of Klein, who was also, among other things, a local residential builder. Despite a warning from the then Spring Valley Water Company, now United Water, not to build in a Flood Zone, construction commenced and was completed. The main avenue in West Nyack is of course named after this esteemed politician, Klein Avenue, which floods out whenever there is a big rain event and Shirley Lasker. Alex Gromack and other members of the Town Board line up in front of the runoff waterfall to blame United Water for the flooding problem which, of course was caused by decisions made by the Town of Clarkstown. This is at best, VERY BIZZARE!
Michael N. Hull February 24, 2012 at 01:24 PM
Watchdog: In RC we may be about to retest Malthusian population economics.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Robert_Malthus Malthus in his essay on the 'Principle of Population' observed that sooner or later population gets checked by scarcity of food or disease. In RC's case we are about to experience a famine of water.  That this will check the population growth is extremely unlikely and therefore some of us must shower less or pack up and leave.   According to Realtor Gerold Fox, "residents would have trouble selling their homes because people will not want to drink Hudson River water".   That's a 'foxy' argument, if I may say so! Residents will have trouble selling their home because of the population density and not because there is desalinated water. I bet Mr Fox isn't French!  ;-)
Scott Walters February 24, 2012 at 01:45 PM
I have always said that dreging the reservois during times of drought would serve multiple purposes. 1) more space in the reservoirs for water in non drought period 2) very fertile soilthat could be sold for use in farming and other land use 3) jobs for people involved in the project Needless to say, this idea has never been answered in any way by our SUEZ friends...
Issy February 24, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Scott this has been answered many times. Besides the environmental impact of 100,000 plus truck load of dirt travelling through our villages, the stress on the dam, the polluting of the water and farm land, you could dredge for years and add very little volume to Lake Deforest.
GWashington February 24, 2012 at 02:36 PM
A simple thing that United Water has not done is dredge Lake Deforest regularly to increase capacity. Maintaining what is already there is the hallmark of a true Conservationist. Glad I have a 300' well.
Scott Walters February 24, 2012 at 03:01 PM
SUEZ has never answered me onthis and I ask every time there is a dry spell....Do you work for SUEZ, Issy?
Watchdog February 24, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Some of the people at the meeting were drinking bottled water at a cost of up to a dollar a bottle and after the had a slug of water complained about the projected cost of water from United Water. The same amount of water In that bottle they were drinking from is less than one penny, including delivery charges to your door and there is no environmental problem disposing of those pesky plastic bottles.
Don February 24, 2012 at 03:03 PM
The deputy mayor of Pomona is upset by plant, rightfully so, but the housing that will be built at Patrick Farm will cause a huge depletion of our water, as well as Medicaid and other services. How does St. Lawrence sleep at night?
William Demarest (Editor) February 24, 2012 at 03:06 PM
If you want to check out the technology behind the desalination plant or ask United Water's experts questions, there is an open house at the West Haverstraw pilot plant for the project on Saturday. http://patch.com/A-rcD0
Robin Traum (Editor) February 24, 2012 at 03:35 PM
Another piece of information shared at the forum - water use in the county increases by 18 percent from April to October.
Toig February 24, 2012 at 05:24 PM
Toig I was there. -Great coverage, Patch! If Rockland population is encouraged to continually enlarge unchecked, as in Ramapo, we will always be pressed to provide more and more water as the quality of life spirals down. Decision makers worldwide are fast realizing that we have entered a new era of concern about global warming, limited resources and ballooning populations. Non-stop growth of anything is in the past and the projections for Rockland County and its water requirements need to be reexamined.
Gregg February 25, 2012 at 12:44 AM
Gregg February 25, 2012 at 12:44 AM


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