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.