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Desal Opponnents Point Out Decreasing Commercial Need and Poor Maintenance

Rockland County legislators cite declining water usage by Pfizer and infrastructure leaks in quest for reopening of United Water rate case


The Chairwoman of the Rockland County Legislature Harriet Cornell and Vice Chairman Alden H. Wolfe recently sent a letter to the chairman of the NYS Public Service Commission (PSC) requesting the Commission reopen the United Water NY (UWNY) rate case. They state new information and unforeseen circumstances have been identified since the PSC’s approval in 2006 of the company’s request for a rate increase.  

Their October 23rd letter, addressed to Chairman Garry Brown, followed a resolution sponsored by Cornell, Wolfe and Legislator Nancy Low-Hogan and passed at the October 16th meeting of the County Legislature that asked the PSC to reopen the case. The resolution also called upon the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to hold an issues conference and adjudicatory hearing in connection with the proposal by UWNY to construct a desalination plant on the shore of the Hudson River.

Cornell and Wolfe’s letter cited the following:

  • A report by the US Geological Survey (USGS), released after the approval of the rate case, found Rockland’s groundwater supply to be larger than reported to the PSC in 2006.
  • A July 2012 story in the New Jersey Record that reported infrastructure leaks in Bergen County were the cause for the loss of 26 percent of treated water.  The acceptable industry standard for leakage is 20 percent. Water from UWNY’s Lake Tappan reservoir flows into Oradell, NJ.
  • The adoption of Rockland County’s Comprehensive Plan in 2011 that outlined a series of “best management practices” that should be taken to address water supply, including better regulatory management of residential and commercial water usage during periods of peak demand. Significant attention was given to golf course water usage.
  • Growing Public Opposition.
  • The potential environmental impact of two major construction projects, occurring simultaneously – the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge and the construction of a desalination plant. this possibility was not addressed in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).
  • Reduced industrial water demand from Pfizer Global Manufacturing in Pearl River due to the announced closure of all but one manufacturing division by 2014. Pfizer’s decreased water need will result in overall less demand.

The letter highlights an analysis conducted by economists at ECONorthwest of the cost information contained in the DEIS. According to the letter, the economists concluded that insufficient information about cost assumptions and comparisons was provided. The letter notes the economists stated inconsistent measures wereused to compare the cost-effectiveness of alternatives and UWNY failed to use industry-standard analyses to compare alternatives.  

“But perhaps the most significant omission from the cost analysis is the lack of transparency and documentation regarding how the construction and operations and maintenance costs of the proposed project would impact ratepayers.  The DEIS authors report their conclusions as to the costs to ratepayers, but - similar to their other cost results - provide no details as to the data, methods, or assumptions they used to generate their results.”

The legislators concluded it is in Rockland's best interest for the PSC to require UWNY to prepare a comprehensive conservation plan, one containing objectives, goals, a timeline, staffing plan, reporting requirements and realistic budget to support its implementation.  

They stated, “If we harness the professional and technical expertise of UWNY with the passion and commitment of the public, the business community and Rockland County government, we are convinced that together we can develop a plan to ensure a sustainable water future for Rockland.”

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