Environmental Committee Talks Desalination Plant

They voted in favor of asking PSC to reopen proceedings on Rockland's water supply.


The Rockland County Legislature’s Environmental Committee voted unanimously Wednesday night to support the request of Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee asking the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) to reopen its proceedings from 2006 on Rockland’s water supply.

The ruling led the PSC to ask United Water to develop new water sources, and United Water then proposed a desalination plant in Haverstraw. Committee Chair Alden Wolfe made multiple mentions throughout the meeting that the committee was not voting for or against the desalination plant, but was simply voting to ask for a reopening of the proceedings.

“We do not decide whether there will be a desal plant or not,” Wolfe said. “We do not set the rates. We do not do any of that.”

Chairwoman of the Legislature Harriet Cornell spoke out in favor of reopening the 2006 proceedings.

“There is new information that has come to light since the rate case was decided about five years ago, or there abouts, and that the new information made a difference in terms of looking again and reopening the rate case,” she said.

She said that in the county comprehensive plan, Rockland Tomorrow, there are a number of water supply recommendations, including to develop a county water policy and to promote conservation. Cornell said that the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) included a few alternative options that weren’t really studied. According to Cornell, the only two studied in the DEIS were the desalination plant and using the Ambrey Pond reservoir in Stony Point.

She also talked about a five-year U.S. Geological Survey conducted for the county.

“The report indicated that there was really more water available than had been thought at the time of the rate case, and since over 90 percent of United Water’s customer base is residential and it appears that much of the peak demand use is due to swimming pools, lawn watering, air cooling, activities that are really within the regulatory control of the county, that if we did move to implement these kinds of conservation opportunities and were better stewards of supply that we have, we really don’t need a new plant at this point in time," said Cornell. "What I was suggesting is that we give conservation and these other options three to four years, at least, to make a difference. This would not close the door on a desal plant or anything else in the future.”

Haverstraw Town Supervisor Howard Phillips spoke during the meeting about how growth in the county will create a need for the plant eventually.

“It’s going to be here,” he said. “Sooner or later, we’re going to see such a demand.”

Phillips also talked about the last time Rockland had a severe drought and how it impacted parts of the county.

“This project now has been going on for six years. Six years,” he said. “I was a county legislator in 1999 when we had the last severe drought. The only way we got past that drought was called Hurricane Floyd. We were ready to impose great restrictions. New Jersey already had imposed restrictions. It was a dire time, and if anybody tells you that there was sufficient water back then, they were either lying or they were living in a cave. In the villages of Haverstraw and West Haverstraw, it got so bad that the fire chiefs were getting together because we did not have enough pressure. That was due to lack of water.”

Since the resolution passed, it will go to the full legislature in the future. Legislator Christopher Carey said the reason he voted in favor of it was so the conversation could continue with the full legislature.

Rita J October 11, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Unfortunately, Supervisor Phillips has been blinded by the chase for ratables. It is unconscienable that we would proceed in approving the construction of a $189million desal plant without exhausting all other possibilities and giving the people of Rockland a chance to voice their concerns. That is what these resolutions are asking for and I applaud the Environmental Committee for doing their jobs and looking out for the people of Rockland!
CR October 11, 2012 at 02:54 PM
The people of Rockland were given a chance to voice concerns during the DEIS process. There was a public hearing at the beginning of the year and the DEC accepted comments and questions even if members of the public weren't able to attend in person. Does Harriet Cornell really think that developing a county water policy will amount to any change in demand? Is she going to tell residents not to fill their pools, water their lawns or cool their air (whatever that is) and then enforce it? Residents in the county are already among the lowest per capita users of water IN THE COUNTRY. How much more can we squeeze out of conservation? If the desal plant is halted, in a few years, when we're in the midst of a drought, then all of these clueless politicians will shaking their fingers at the water company demanding to know why there isn't enough water. They'll be screaming because there's a moratorium on building because the water company can't supply water to new houses. They'll be screaming that we can't attract new business to the County because of water shortages. These people have absolutely no foresight. They delay through red tape and bureaucracy, point fingers, and then pass the problem onto the next batch of dolts. It’s really sickening.
Rita J October 11, 2012 at 03:31 PM
What is sickening is a private, for-profit corporation, using the power of a high profile lobbyist in Albany pushing through a plant that could, potentially, have devestating affects on the county and the people of the county in years to come. It would be irresponsible of these "politicians" to ignore the new evidence and not follow through on getting all the facts on the table. The fact is, there has NOT been any independent studies, the public comment period was joke and United Water has been dictating this entire process. We do need a comprehensive water policy in the county and should be pursuing one. Desalination with water known to have radionuclide content should be the very last resort for potable water in a water rich region, such as ours. Yes, we will have droughts. We will also have floods. Desal ,may come in handy during a dry spell but will be detrimental in a rainy season. All of the facts need to be brought out on the table. Only an issues conference & adjucatory hearing will do that. That is our right as citizens and, quite responsibly, this is what the Legislature is asking for.
CR October 11, 2012 at 04:20 PM
You say "private, for-profit corporation" like it's a bad thing. Most people work for for-profit companies and we have a market-based economy here in the U.S. I'm not sure what you're getting at there. What devestating affects on the county are you referring to? Also, if you think that the water company has dictated the process, you are 100% incorrect. The process is dictated (and dragged out and on and on and on...) by the bureaucratic DEC. I'm not trying to attack you, but could you explain how having a water policy would help the county? What policies would you like to see established and what entity would enforce them? Finally, what long-term options are you in favor of? Water policies, additional conservation, etc. at best could potentially delay the need for a long-term option and at worst won't result in any additional supply. The desal plant was the least expensive of the options analyzed. Was there an option overlooked?
Michael Gries October 12, 2012 at 12:26 AM
"(Haverstraw Town Supervisor Howard Phillips spoke during the meeting about how growth in the county will create a need for the plant eventually.“It’s going to be here,” he said. “Sooner or later, we’re going to see such a demand.”)" Until that time it will be a costly liability to the consumers, not the company since they just pass along the costs. No sense building & running a plant until we reach this "demand".
laurie seeman October 12, 2012 at 03:51 AM
In the 1999 drought year that Howie Phillps stands upon as a driving issue, United Water was reputedly releasing grand excesses of Rockland's Lake Deforest water to New Jersey. The Rockland Legislature has wisely called for a 50 year record of releases to New Jersey in order to reassess our County's true water profile. The few outspoken people who are so invested in this decision being rushed forward are clearly those who have staked interests in the outcomes.
Issy October 12, 2012 at 10:34 AM
According to the PSC that time could be as early as 2015, which is why their mandate requires UW to provide additional sources of water by this date.
Rita J October 12, 2012 at 03:13 PM
CR, yes, in the case of life sustaining water a private company controlling it IS a bad thing. Privatization is not the solution for deteriorating public water systems already feeling the double-pinch of dwindling local and federal funds. Private water providers are businesses. They are motivated mainly by their bottom line. The pressure to deliver high rates of return for shareholders drives them to cut corners when they are operating under contracts, and to drive up costs when they are operating as regulated utilities. The latter is a well-established phenomenon known as the Averch-Johnson Effect, named for the economists who first modeled it in the 1960s. Under rate-of-return regulation, investor-owned water utilities make more money when they invest in infrastructure, giving them an incentive to "gold plate" systems. Yes, they are investing in improvements. But they may build an unnecessarily large treatment plant or choose a more capital-intensive treatment process, such as desalination. Private companies that operate water systems have appalling track records of rate increases, poor system maintenance, faulty billing practices and other failures, sometimes even jeopardizing the health and safety of local residents
CR October 12, 2012 at 04:43 PM
Sorry Rita, but the fact is that investments made by the water company (and all utilities) must be reasonable as determined by the NY PSC. United Water can't just go out and spend millions upon millions of dollars to gold plate their system. The PSC simply wouldn't allow it. I'm not sure how privatization is relevant in your argument either. You say privatization is not the answer…, but United Water has been running the water system here for a hundred years (or something like that). Since our water system isn't crumbling, you have actually made the argument in favor of using a private water company. You're right, publicly run water systems are crumbling and that's mainly because their investment decisions are based on political considerations and not business (profit) considerations. The mayors and political leaders don't want to be the ones to raise water rates to pay for needed, systematic, long-term investments, even though that's good for the viability of the water system over the long haul. However, by having a profit component, capital is attracted to the area for needed improvements and maintenance. This, as mentioned before, is balanced out by the NY PSC to insure that monopolies are not gold plating their systems. The process works and works effectively.
Rita J October 12, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Option overlooked? Possibly. In Orangetown they've spent millions on waste water treatment. Andy Stewart (Orangetown Supervisor) had this to say at the Legislature: With all the work we have to put into the sewage conveyance and treatment system, it seems a shame indeed that overall the county throws away about 12 billion gallons a year of treated water into the Hudson River – only to pay a premium price to have a desal plant in Haverstraw pump it back out, try to remove the contamination from nuclear plant and other sources, and sell it back to us. We need to re-assess opportunities for both conservation AND reuse of waters, like the tertiary treatment facility on the Ramapo river that augments supplies to NJ, enabling greater use of adjacent well fields by United Water. There are many other suggestions that were either absent or skimmed over in the DEIS. These are the kinds of issues that will come out in the hearings. This is why we need the hearings and should not be rushing into this plant. It could be the biggest mistake the County will ever make. What is your personal interest in this plant CR? You must have one, otherwise you'd want all facts and avenues to be exhausted before approving this.
Issy October 12, 2012 at 05:46 PM
UW did consider the water from the treatment plant, but it is not drinkable by any stretch of the imagination. It was one of three main solutions that UW developed, but to make it so would require a much greater cost than the Desal. We have tapped out our ability to use the Ramapao, riparian rights restrict the amount of water we can take from both the Ramapo and Lake Deforest. Remember UW is under mandate by the PSC to come up with a new water supply (7.5 mg/day), not to rework the old ones.
CR October 12, 2012 at 08:34 PM
As ISSY mentioned, sewage re-use was analyzed as an option by United Water and the costs associated with that choice were much higher than the desal project. What “other suggestions” were absent from the DEIS? If they were suggested, wouldn’t they have been part of the DEIS? I don’t understand. I don’t have a personal interest in this plant other than the fact that it is a microcosm of how damaging special interest groups and government can be for progress. This project has been discussed, poked, prodded, analyzed and scrutinized since at least 2006 (according to a previous post). The DEIS process is a comprehensive one (Google it and you’ll see the magnitude of the DEIS document), where the public and all the politicians and special interest groups can voice their concerns, make suggestions and either oppose or support the project. To say we, “should not be rushing into this plant” is incredible, especially after 6+ years of analysis. I can just see it now, we’re in the middle of a drought, a building moratorium is in effect, Rockland can’t attract business to the County and all the politicians are screaming, “Why hasn’t United Water built that desal plant yet!!!??”


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