WATER CRISIS ADDRESSED AT NEW WINDSOR FORUM
“It’s even in the popcorn, and will soon impact our local craft beer industry”
Assemblyman Colin Schmitt held the largest water quality task force public hearing in New York State on Wednesday evening in New Windsor, along with Co-Chairs, Assemblyman Dan Stec of Queensbury, Assemblyman Michael LiPetri of Massapequa and Assemblyman Kevin Byrne of Mahopac. Those testifying included municipal officials: Deputy Mayor Timothy Egan of Woodbury, Blooming Grove Supervisor Rob Jeroloman, Washingtonville Mayor Joe Bucco, Village of South Blooming Grove Mayor Jim LoFranco and New Windsor Legislator Joe Minuta, each of which has amassed a wealth of knowledge after dealing with water issues with notable experts for over a decade.
The well attended forum of about 50 invited guests nearly filled the Vails Gate Fire Department Auditorium, with an audience glued to every word spoken by both the Task Force and the dozen or so local officials who testified about the water problems and solutions in their municipalities. The Forum, which lasted over two hours had moments of levity as some of the finest minds in the region gave their perspectives on what they all called an impending water crisis, specifics about what each of them is faced with (from quantity to quality issues along with bureaucratic obstacles to solving them, and proactive solutions they are implementing.)
Assemblyman Schmitt and his panel members fielded questions and shared ideas and thoughts with each speaker. Near the end of the meeting, after several speakers had cautioned that emerging contaminants PFA’s and other toxins “ARE EVERYWHERE!”. Schmitt got chuckles when he said “I was horrified to find out it’s even in Popcorn ….and soon it could be ruining our growing craft beer industry.” Someone in the audience murmured rather loudly “No! Not the beer!” But the session was otherwise very serious and tremendously informative.
David Church, Orange County Commissioner of Planning, spoke to the problems of bureaucratic barriers at the state level that prevent existing watershed regulations from being enforced and updated in a timely manner. He said “There needs to be better use of the tools we already have, and reconcile who is in charge of what; and the Moodna Creek is a #1 concern!” He added that some of the best work on water protection has been done by small watershed volunteer groups that are traditionally underfunded, and could be made much better use of addressing the many issues related to runoff, land use and contamination”. He like others said “There is nothing more important than access to safe and drinkable water”.
An alternative method of funding water issues in each municipality was discussed, to give amounts to each towns similar to the way they get monies for road work, called a CHIPS grant, and the town or village can use the funds as they are needed, rather than what was called a “Shark Tank” kind of application which becomes a cumbersome and often expensive process.
Legislator Joe Minuta went even farther and said “We need to band together for a real voice in Albany. We are the source that supplies New York City, and yet we are left to supply ourselves. We need to find the sources of contaminants and clean them up.'”
“If our government is not providing us with clean drinking water,
then what other job do we have?”
Legislator Joe Minuta
With the numerous references to cleaning the main contaminants issue up at the source, many were referring to the PFAS discharges that contaminated City of Newburgh water and more recently New Windsor’s new $2M well and filtration system. Several speakers spoke to the worry that as Stewart contaminants flowed toward Beaver Dam Lake, the risks are NOT limited to Newburgh and New Windsor, especially with wells found to be contaminated at the north end of Beaver Dam Lake, and with the dam having been removed for restoration. The PFA issue includes thousands of variants, however Beaver Dam Lake is believed to have had a different variety and of questionable cause. Assemblyman Schmitt informed attendees that a new double filter is being installed at Stewart Air Base soon, one that should be able to finally effectively remove contaminants. Where installed, GAC (granulated carbon filters) have been shown to lower readings to a non-detect level.
Deputy Mayor Tim Egan, of the Village of Woodbury said their issues are primarily of quality and quantity. He said that their village spent a lot of time and money developing a Smart Growth Comprehensive Plan, but that “It’s just not going to work if everyone else is gobbling up the supply. ” He said their only recourse then is suing or applying penalties to those who are abusing the resources. Quality is also an issue, with effluent particulates from food processing, and capacity treatment of sewage at the Harriman Plant already unable to be compliant. Egan repeated a comment voiced by many of the participants saying that we have to be more proactive, “If we’re assessing penalties, it’s too late. The horse is already out of the barn.”
Supervisor Rob Jeroloman of Blooming Grove spoke of the deteriorating quality and quantity of water in the town and the measures they are taking to protect it. He said that wells in areas that in the past found good water at 150 ft. down now sometimes requires a depth of 660 ft. The bottom is at 710, and the town’s hydrogeologists have warned that at that level you are getting into conditions that just don’t recharge. If the aquifer is destroyed both he and Joe Minuta said “We will end up like the ghost towns in California”, adding that wells in southern part of the town are already going dry in 6-7 years, and “We all share the aquifers, they don’t just follow the lines of a municipality.” A creative effort at protecting significant recharge areas identified in a recent natural resources inventory is being used to identify important wetlands, farmland, and other water resources. The hope is to protect some of those parcels in the coming years with PDR (Purchase of Development Rights) programs. This is just one of the ways Blooming Grove is being proactive, along with creating stormwater detention ponds, good storm drain and drainage ditch management, and use of porous asphalt materials in parking lots that will allow water to drain back into the aquifer.
Iron and manganese have impacted water quality, as well as runoff from Route 17, Route 208 and Route 94.
The Town will need cooperation with the county and state to reduce salt runoff from these county and state roads. Meanwhile the highway department is using an innovative product for treating winter icing. It includes a molasses mixture which lasts longer and has much less runoff, and costs less since less of it accomplishes the same purpose.
Mayor Jim LoFranco of the Village of South Blooming Grove spoke of the trials they have had in obtaining funding to address their quality and quantity issues, especially the discolored brown water some residents get because of iron and manganese. A picture is worth a thousand words, and Steve DiMartino who lives in the Village of South Blooming Grove came to show what his and many of his neighbors’ looks like. It made quite an impact on the panel.
They have applied for grants and received some, but have had to borrow toward a large new filtration system to resolve the issue. New well sources are being looked for as well, because they are reaching maximum at their existing wells which have to borrow from each other at times of high use. This also contributes to the discoloration which comes from sloughing of old pipes. LoFranco said the issues are also related to a changing and growing population that has 8 or 9 children per average family rather than their usual 4-5 member families.
Mayor Joe Bucco of Washingtonville said his village has 6 wells that are not being used, and they may or may not find any issues once they go into use. Old pipes are a concern as well since they do not yet know their condition. Meanwhile, with a new wastewater treatment plant that is within 80% of completion, and carries a lot of debt that will have to be paid off, he will have to find funding for both projects.
Matt Decker of the Land Trust emphasized that all we have to do is look at the quality of water that comes from the Catskills Aqueduct, and that the reason it is of high quality is that it processes naturally through mountains and streams. If we can replicate that process in smaller but like measures around our region it could go a long way toward solving our water problems.