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United Water’s Plan is Wrong for Rockland County

DavidFried201212aby David Fried, Rockland County Executive Candidate

United Water claims that without immediate action, Rockland County faces critical shortages in the near future. But the evidence has shown this assumption by the utility may be premature and without real substance. The evidence, in fact, points to a healthy water supply for the county if we diligently maintain the current system. An overhaul is not in order.The utility asserts that we need a new water supply because water demands will eclipse supply in the near future. But science is not on the side of United Water. The United States Geologic Survey has found that Rockland’s bedrock aquifers are not in danger. In fact, they are replenishing themselves at healthy rates, based on some 20-plus years of scientific evidence they’ve analyzed.

Period for Public Comment Extended

The PSC will be accepting comments until Nov. 8 via telephone, internet or mail.

  • Written comments can be mailed to Hon. Kathleen H. Burgess, Secretary, Public Service Commission, Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York 12223-1350.
  • If you live in New York State, you can also call in your comments to the PSC’s Opinion Line at 1-800-335-2120 toll free 24 hours a day.

Your comments should refer to Case 13-W-0303-Proceeding on Motion of the Commission to Examine United Water New York, Inc.’s Development of a New Long-Term Water Supply Source.

In addition to the news that our aquifers are healthy, we also have learned that Rockland County’s already porous water sharing agreement with New Jersey has been continuously violated, and we’re sending too much of our water across state lines.

United Water sent more than 19 million gallons of water per day to New Jersey in excess to the agreement, profited from it, and has not been penalized. Those 19 million gallons per day that’s over-shared with Bergen could meet the water needs of more than 250,000 homes. It’s critical the next agreement be strictly enforced, including stiff penalties for over sharing. Future agreements must also include drought restriction reciprocity. Currently, when Rockland is under drought restrictions, Bergen County is not required to be although we share a water source. While Rockland residents can’t water their lawns and restaurants can’t serve glasses of water, they can still fill their pools and play on their Slip n’ Slides in Bergen. This patently unfair to Rockland residents and businesses, and we must take action to make this agreement more equitable.

Another cause of concern is the significant loss of treated water sent to New Jersey in an aging pipe infrastructure. According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, United Water’s Garden State operations lost more than 10.6 billion gallons of treated and processed water in 2011 – more than 26 percent of the utility’s total treated water. This high rate of loss is avoidable, but it would continue unabated under United Water’s plan, which does not address these infrastructure concerns. The discussion we should be having is not be whether we should pay for a new water source in Rockland, but how to fix critical problems with an aging delivery system that causes a great amount of costly waste.

United Water justifies their call for new water sources based on an anticipated shortfall caused by the increased demands of continued over-development. And yes, rampant overdevelopment has the potential reduce the recharging of subsurface aquifers, as there’s less rain water to replenish them. That’s why I strongly oppose developments like Patrick Farm. I do encourage smart, sustainable development, however, which utilizes  permeable surfaces that can help recharge aquifers at even greater rates, while also reducing the potential of flooding. For example, a recently constructed permeable parking lot at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades will reduce water runoff at the campus by 25 percent and eliminate the need for detention basins. This permeable lot will also last 15 years longer than traditional paved parking.

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As County Executive, I will fight to empower Rockland’s ability to protect our water. To ensure that Rockland County addresses its water issues to the benefit of its residents, I am proposing that a panel is convened to explore the possibility of creating a water district for the area. As Executive I’d direct the County Attorney to provide legal support for this effort. I pledge to include representatives from the Rockland Water Coalition in the process, including Riverkeeper and The Sierra Club. Creating a water district has merit because it can give us a seat at the table when decisions are made.

The evidence I’ve highlighted points to Rockland County having ample water resources to sustain a moderately growing region, if we proceed smartly. The issues that must be addressed are an aging infrastructure, strict enforcement of water sharing agreements, conservation, fair allocation of resources, and smart growth and development to keep our aquifers adequately charged. Here in Rockland County, we have access to many predominant experts in the field of water management and they can’t find justification for a United Water’s plan. Neither do I.

David Fried is the Democratic, Working Families, and  Independence Party candidate for County Executive.

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