United Water New York has agreed to a civil penalty of $40,000 for improperly applying pesticides to the Lake DeForest reservoir, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
However, if the utility complies with the terms of a deal with the state, $16,750 of that penalty will be suspended. United Water New York owns and operates Lake DeForest, which is a major source of drinking water for residents in Rockland County.
The state Environmental Conservation Law regulates how and when chemicals and pesticides may be applied to the waters of the State.
Under DEC pesticide regulations, United Water was authorized to apply copper sulfate for the control of algae, subject to certain limitations. But the DEC says United Water failed to follow three critical provisions of the state's Pesticides Law in the use of copper sulfate to effectively treat algae in the reservoir:
1) United Water applied copper sulfate later in the year than allowed by regulation;
2) the applications of copper sulfate were too frequent to be in compliance with the regulation;
3) the company failed to maintain accurate and complete pesticides records on site.
"DEC is working with United Water to ensure the company stays in compliance with pesticide regulations to protect the health and safety of the public and to safeguard the environment," said Regional Director Willie Janeway.
United Water agreed to pay $23,250 of the penalty with the balance of $16,750 suspended contingent upon compliance with the requirements of a consent order. The consent order also addresses the violations and sets out a series of steps the company will need to take including properly maintaining pesticide records and properly following all pesticide regulations in the future.
Here is United Water's response to the DEC's announcement on Tuesday:
United Water New York administered copper sulfate treatment to Lake DeForest in accordance with instructions provided on the product label. The instructions were registered with both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State of New York.
In response to a press release issued today by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Michael Pointing, vice president and general manager of United Water New York, noted that there is a conflict between the product instructions accepted by the DEC and its own regulations.
Copper sulfate is used to treat algae blooms which occur in warm weather. Uncontrolled algae can interfere with the effectiveness of the water treatment process and reduce the amount of water available for homes, businesses and firefighting. Applying copper sulfate enables water providers to treat the water so that it meets all safe drinking water standards. It also helps improve unpleasant taste and odor caused by algae.
“Our New York State licensed applicators administered copper sulfate in a safe and appropriate manner,” said Pointing. “The product instructions prescribe the frequency and dosage for applying copper sulfate. This ensures that United Water New York customers and the residents of the Village of Nyack receive healthy water. By using lower dosages at the frequencies recommended on the registered label, we were also better able to protect fish and other aquatic life in the lake.”
Copper sulfate treatment is typically allowed through Labor Day according to DEC regulations. “However, when warm weather caused algae blooms after that date, it became necessary to use copper sulfate to ensure the quality of the drinking water,” said Pointing. “Prior to doing so, we contacted the DEC and received authorization.”
He also explained that United Water’s copper sulfate records were available within 30 minutes of being requested by a DEC representative.
“We respect the DEC’s efforts to ensure compliance and we share that goal as well. As we look toward the future, this a good illustration of how regulations need to be updated to better meet the needs of drinking water suppliers, customers and the environment,” said Pointing. “In addition, it also demonstrates the need for better coordination between various agencies.”
United Water New York supplies drinking water to over 280,000 people in Rockland and parts of Orange counties.