“YOU CALL THIS WATER SAFE?”
By Edie Johnson
Village of South Blooming Grove – Emotions ran from one extreme to the other at the Village Hall on Monday night when a presentation of the plan for a new water filtration system and well house at Merriwold Lake revealed that while it is likely to solve the residents’ “brown water issue” it will take over a year and a half to be completed, and $875,000 of its cost $1.2M cost will be borne by district members. The new system will have its own chemical feed, standby power,and fully automated controls. Meetings with Senator James Skoufis, Assemblyman Colin Schmitt, Senator Kirsten Gillebrand and former Senator Bill Larkin resulted in a grant for $125,000 and another for $200,000, but district residents said that with a population of only 3,000 the remaining $875,000 will be an unacceptable hit on their budgets. Beyond the cost, the room full of increasingly angry citizens said they simply cannot wait that long (265 days from Dec. 12/1/2019) for clean water. One gentleman began to approach Town and Village Engineer, Mike Weeks, with his bottle of dark brown water saying, “Here, DRINK THIS, Come On!”. Several demanded “Why can’t this be declared a State of Emergency?”.
Their moods moved from attentive to aggravated while Weeks patiently showed them the statistics and told them the bad news, that Orange County health officials had called the dark color a purely cosmetic issue, and that it was perfectly safe for drinking and bathing. Mayor Jim LoFranco has scheduled additional meetings with the sample to show the county, and a demand for some temporary solutions. Weeks made a Powerpoint presentation that showed where the wells are located, the amounts of residual iron and magnesium that cause the sediment (over recommended levels) and another chart showing the village’s supply and demand rates from its 3 wells.
The additional bad news is that demand is rising while supply shows diminishing yield. This contributes to the deposits when the flow changes because water has to be borrowed between wells. The deposits are at their worst when there is a main break and pipes are flushed after the repair, releasing minerals that have collected on the pipes. Just about the only good news is that the well at Orange and Rockland Lake had the same sediment problem, and it disappeared with the new filtration system. Mayor LoFranco is still optimistic that additional funding and temporary solutions will be found. What do the residents want? At one point some of those present requested connection to the aqueduct, Weeks explained why it is both practically and financially unfeasible. Dozens of letters have already been sent to officials, and residents have now organized plans for a petition and additional letters to editors. The petition will be available for signature by anyone interested at Village Hall on Monday 4/15.
They implored, “At least get regular truckloads or tanks of clean water that we can draw from for the year and a half before the new filtration system is done.”
Meanwhile, residents most affected line up at an old Great Bear spring pipe at the Route 208/Clove Road intersection. Others stock up on cases from stores. Bathing often has to be done at a friend or relative’s house. The pipe water is intermittently tested, and has in the past tested clear of contaminants. but residents fear a tragedy when multiple people are crossing the busy road to the pipe with jugs to fill, or parking along the North side of Route 208.
Resident concerns jumped just about off the charts when they learned that the proposed Clovewood Development at the foothills of Schunnemunk has resubmitted its DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Statement) for a cluster development that could double the village’s population. The proposal calls for 600 houses, water (at an estimated 270,000 gallons per day), and sewage that would either be discharged into an intermittent stream, or carried across Schunnemunk Mountain to Kiryas Joel. At a time when breaking through the mountain has been considered a very worst case scenario to most existing residents, and considerable negotiation was done during creation of the Town of Palm Tree to protect the Ridge from ANY impact, if seriously considered the effluent would then flow on to the Harriman Sewage Plant, which is also at capacity. The Plant then discharges the treated effluent into the Ramapo River, where officials are already talking about tightening discharge restrictions. Local officials have just begun to study the new proposal, but the key problems are the water usage which would more than double the current maximum use per day when current village supply is barely adequate, and sewage effluent discharge which (if that portion of the DEIS plan has not drastically changed) would discharge into an intermittent stream.) An intermittent stream is one that is dry for a portion of the year.