by Harriet Cornell, Rockland County Legislator
Winter is well upon us and it has been a plentiful year for snow. Spring and summer will be here before long and the issue of water use will be front and center again. Many in Rockland may be unaware that one of the biggest and most impactful news stories of 2014 had to do with water resources. Water is a necessity for our lives, our families, our businesses, and our communities–and how plentiful, how pure, how wisely used it is now and into the future requires community thought and understanding of the issues. On November 17, 2014, the State of New York put the important question of Rockland County water squarely in the hands of its residents.
In 2006, the Public Service Commission in a rate case decision had ordered United Water to develop a plan for 2030. Essentially, it said – come up with additional water to meet County needs. United Water, a private corporation, provides water to most of Rockland residents and businesses, except for those in Nyack and Suffern or those on private wells. Among the choices considered was making Ambrey Pond a reservoir or building a desalination plant to treat Hudson River water for drinking – similar to those plants used in the most arid climates on Earth. United Water concluded and formally proposed to NYS agencies that a desalination plant was the correct choice for the future.
Local residents got involved during the state’s consideration of Rockland water issues, asking questions about who would pay for the new energy-intensive facility, whether it was needed, whether it was sustainable and whether residents would have confidence drinking water pumped from the river near Indian Point. They urged government agencies to reconsider the facts and analyses put before them and ultimately, to determine if desalination was the right choice for Rockland. Those issues were never fully resolved, but the New York State Public Service Commission decided to hold public hearings in Rockland on the question of “Need.”
On October 1, 2013, the first hearing was held at Clarkstown South High School. Close to 1,000 people turned out. Then Chairwoman of the Rockland County Legislature, I testified that Rockland County was ready to take the lead on water conservation and would convene a Task Force to develop a Comprehensive Water Plan to ensure a safe, long-term water supply that incorporates sustainability, demand-side principles and conservation—and called on the Public Service Commission to endorse this task force.
In June 2014, the Rockland Task Force on Water Resources Management was signed into law, empowered to find solutions to the water needs of the future. Members include key stakeholders like United Water, community and government representatives, business interests, and advocacy groups. The critical work is now underway and should involve all County residents
The answer to the question of Need came last November. The Public Service Commission decided that while additional water was needed, it was not the crisis forecast in its 2006 Order; that conservation and alternate sources needed to be identified and considered as part of the future water supply mix; and that United Water’s solution, desalination of Hudson River water, may not be the answer. The PSC also did something extraordinary – it required the underlying analysis and identification of water strategies to include the residents directly impacted. The Public Service Commission ordered United Water and the Task Force to work together to develop solutions.
The Commission ordered that:
- United Water, working with the Task Force, identify measures that may reduce demand by 2 million gallons daily (mgd);
- United Water conduct a study describing the feasibility, anticipated cost of development and description for a project or series of projects that could yield an additional 2-3 mgd of water supply.
These significant undertakings are set on a fast track – the first, to be completed by mid- May 2015, is the water conservation study and assessment. The Task Force and United Water have been working together since September to achieve these mandates for the people of Rockland. There are monthly Task Force meetings and frequent committee meetings focusing on specifically identified areas, which include: initial water demand, conservation, groundwater and stormwater, drought and flooding, and systems management. All meetings are open to the public.
The future of Rockland County’s water use, although unwritten, has been charted. Many residents, concerned about costs and sustainability among other issues, and inspired by the Rockland Water Coalition, worked tirelessly to bring us to this point. United Water is under a clear order to produce solutions and to do so with the Task Force. There is now an historic opportunity to decide our water future with every possibility put on the table, and in doing so, to develop a water resources plan like none other in the world. The process thus far was made possible and enriched by active public participation. We urge you to join the process. To join a committee or to be notified of Task Force meetings, please contact email@example.com.
Harriet Cornell is the Chairwoman of the Rockland Task Force on Water Resources Management.