by Eric Weltman, Food & Water Watch
United Water’s proposed desalination plant in Rockland County, New York, could have implications that reach far beyond the local county lines, which is why all of New York State should be paying close attention to the issue. The Rockland Water Coalition, a broad array of local citizen groups working together with major regional partners such as Riverkeeper, Scenic Hudson, and Clearwater, has come together in opposition to United Water’s proposal to desalinate water withdrawn from the Hudson River.
United Water, a subsidiary of Suez Environment, is the second-largest private operator of municipal water systems in the country and the company is currently seeking opportunities to profit from desalination technology. But, Rockland County does not need a costly and energy intensive desalination plant; they need a sensible water management plan.
This proposed plant would be cited just 3.5 miles south of Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, one of the most troubled nuclear plants in the U.S., due to documented leaks of strontium-90 and Tritium, which infiltrate the river through ground water. This section of the river, called Haverstraw Bay is also designated a significant coastal fish and wildlife habitat and is a prime nursery for the river and Atlantic seacoast fisheries. The issues are many and complex surrounding this proposal.
The desalination plan has allowed a private corporation to make fast track decisions that are not well founded, and are not in accordance with the expressed will of the people. Consumers want to be educated on the water resources in order to be able to make better sustainable choices. The county does not need more water; it needs water management. Each year over 14 billion gallons of waste water and storm water are released into the salty Hudson River Estuary’€”wasted water.
If Governor Andrew Cuomo makes the wrong decision and approves the plant, it would set an irreversible precedent for this unsustainable, energy intensive technology in New York State and beyond that would include escalating water rates, increased regional energy usage, and immeasurable damage to the immediate community and surrounding environment.
The change in community character is also of real concern. At a time when communities are working together to restore their towns from industrial era impacts, United Water’s proposed plan takes the county into the wrong direction by encouraging unsustainable development at a fast rate, and further industrializes Haverstraw Bay.
The story unfolding in Rockland County right now is happening in communities around the country. As communities struggle to maintain their water infrastructure, private companies area opportunistically driving deals to take over. What the towns do not know is their water supply will not be handled in the best interest of the community. United Water has a long record of being a ‘€œbad corporate citizen.’€
United Water has had a large number of high-profile failures in recent years due to poor performance and increased water rates, and the company has repeatedly been charged with falsifying data in towns across America. Most significantly, many Rockland County citizens have expressed concerns over the quality of their drinking water and the accuracy of the data United Water provides. In Tom’s River, NJ, just south of Rockland, United Water was charged with a cover up of the presence of radionuclides in the drinking water by manipulating water quality data.
United Water was also sued in Tom’s River for manipulating water quality data that was linked to a cluster of childhood leukemia deaths. In addition, in NJ United Water has been fined for 165 counts of violation of the Watershed Moratorium Act, a costly issue.
United Water has won few new contracts to operate city water systems, forcing them to focus on taking over other water companies to eliminate competition. The desalination plant in Rockland County is a highly prized goal for United Water, which sees this as a gateway to more desalination plants in the Northeast and more profits.
This is why the Rockland Water Coalition encourages consumers to speak out and submit their comments to New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of State. United Water’s application to build a desalination facility fails to thoroughly examine sustainable water options. There are better choices that can strengthen our economy while protecting our environment.
Eric Weltman is an organizer with Food & Water Watch, a member organization in the Rockland Water Coalition. Food & Water Watch is a consumer advocate that works to ensure the food, water and fish is safe, accessible and sustainably produced. The group works to protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and informing the community at large about keeping global shared resources under public control.