The Endangered Water Supply

   "[We] predict stage III drought emergencies once every 3-5 years if
    there is no increase in population. If past patterns hold up, we're
    living on borrowed time."
            
Dr. Bradfield Lyon and Dr. Nicholas Christie-Blick of
             Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory

  
"In your professional opinion, is United Water New York capable of delivering an adequate and reliable supply
 of water to Rockland County?"
"No."
 
Dr. Daniel Miller's testimony before the New York State Public Service Commission--Fall 2006.
 Dr. Miller is in charge of water supplies at the Rockland County Dept. of Health
 

Too Many People,
Too Little Water

According to two scientists from Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, "If past
patterns [for droughts] hold up, we’re living on borrowed time." They blame the combination of limited
resources, drought patterns, and overdevelopment. Dr. Daniel Miller of the Rockland Department of Health
concurs in his testimony before the State Public Service Commission. Yet the building in Ramapo continues
at an accelerating pace. Complete story here.

 

What do you know
about your water
company?

Spring Valley Waterworks was
founded in 1893 with one em-
ployee at the time. Today it is
a wholly-owned subsidiary of
the French conglomerate Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux with corporate offices in
Paris. Suez is the second largest international conglomerate seeking water
rights around the world on the assumption that water will be the new oil
in the 21st Century. Read the history of our water company here along with
speculations on Suez's business plan. For a perspective on the very uneven
performance of this giant check the article titled "Water for Profit" here.


[The most recent stories are on the home page]

Study will ID Rockland watersheds to address drainage

October 10, 2008 "The county plans to launch a major new study to determine the
location of all watersheds in Rockland, an effort it hopes will lead to addressing drainage
and flooding problems. A watershed is basically a basin and when changes are made to
that basin, problems can occur. Many flooding problems in Rockland are the result of
having too much ground surface covered by such impervious materials as concrete and
asphalt. Impervious surfaces include streets, sidewalks, roofs, driveways, parking lots
and patios - all of which have sprouted up around Rockland in recent decades as more
and more housing units and shopping centers have been built."
[Story
available only in Journal News archives]

Suffern wants investigation of chloride in water
 (July 31, 2007)

"Mayor Keegan said last week that there wasn't an imminent danger to the village's
water supply, but the source of the chloride needed to be traced and corrective
measures taken. "I'm not saying our water will be undrinkable next week,"
Keegan said, "but the flag has gone up, and we have to take action." [Story
available only in Journal News archives]

Tapping into frustration--The ebbing credibility of United Water (July 25, 2007)

The Journal News editorial reviews current and past failures of United Water to
notify its customers in emergency situations. The editor asks the question, "Has
this become United Water's signature--following the letter, yet not the spirit, of
notification?" [Editorial available only in Journal News archive]

Suffern rejects latest United Water bid to buy village
water (July 8, 2007)

"While the company had previously sought water for only the peak summer
months, Mayor John Keegan said Friday that the latest offer would have allowed it
to take a million gallons daily all year long." The United Water offer was rejected,
but they may make another offer. Meanwhile, no one except Preserve Ramapo and
the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory have publicly made the obvious connection
between United Water's inability to supply the County and overdevelopment.
[Story available only in Journal News archives]

Suffern proposes deal with United Water (June 14, 2007)

New York State says United Water is short 1.4 million gallons per day and has
ordered the company to find new sources. Suffern has agreed to double the
drawdown of its water resources this summer to sell 1 million gallons/day to
the company, but not everyone is happy. Resident Francoise Gross says, "The
reason that United Water needs more water is because we have tremendous
growth in the area. The village of Suffern should not be responsible for the
population growth in the town of Ramapo." [Story available only in Journal
News archives]

Public airs water sale concerns in Suffern (June 8, 2007)

United Water was ordered by the State to add 1.4 million gallons of water to its
overall Rockland supply no later than June 15. With four days to go, the company
will be asking the Village of Suffern to sell it 1 million gallons of water per day so
they can comply with the law. Suffern uses between 1 to 1.5 million gallons per
day to supply all of its residents, so if the sale is approved, the daily drawdown of
Suffern's supply would virtually double. Meeting is Monday, June 11 at 7:30, Suffern
Village Hall. [Story available only in Journal News archives]

Suffern considers selling excess supply to
United Water (June 3, 2007)

"United Water New York wants to tap into the village's water system during
the summer when consumption usually increases." This is one of several
steps to try and make up for deficits in supply that are increasing with
greater demand from a growing population. 
[Story available only in Journal News archives]

Rockland asks United Water to pay for testing, issues
 27 violations (May 15, 2007)

"The county has formally asked United Water New York to pay for a one-year
sampling program that would test for arsenic and other heavy metals, and
help shed light on Rockland's overall water chemistry."
[Story available only in Journal News archives]

Jaffee brings well-water testing measure
to Albany (May 11, 2007)

"There are additional reasons to be concerned about well water, given the
results recorded so far in Rockland, where testing has been under way since
2005. A total of 252 private wells have been tested through the end of April,
according to the Rockland County Department of Health. Of that number, 167,
or 66.3 percent, failed drinking-water standards."

[Story available only in Journal News archives]

DEC program leaves rivers open to toxic pollution
(April 13, 2007)

"Environmental Advocates of New York said the state Department of
Environmental Conservation had failed to enforce the federal Clean Water Act
for the past 15 years. Among the 6,500 facilities cited in the report were the
Bowline Point power plant, which had a permit dated 1987; the Rockland County
Sewer District's Sloatsburg plant, 1990; and Tilcon New York's West Nyack Quarry,
1991." [Story available only in Journal News archives]

Homeowners worry United Water will dry up their wells (March 26, 2007)

After they decided that developing Ambrey Pond as a new reservoir would cost
the corporation too much money, United Water settled on desalinating the Hudson.
But that is years off. There's an increasingly desperate need for water in over-
developed Rockland already, so the company plans to drill three new wells--in
Wesley Hills, Congers, and West Nyack. The Catch 22 is that by increasing UW's
supply, the company will draw down aquifers serving private wells in the area,
which begs the question: Whose resource is it?

[Story available only in Journal News archives]

Rockland hunts source of arsenic in United Water wells (March 25, 2007)

When United Water refused to search for the source of arsenic in their wells many
residents were not happy. It was as if Menu Foods had announced that they were
not going to look for the source of poison in the pet food they were
distributing. But now, the Rockland Board of Health has announced it will be
working with Lamont-Doherty labs to find the source(s) of the contamination.
[Story available only in Journal News archives]

Rockland seeks arsenic testing help from
Lamont-Doherty (March 2, 2007)

After United Water announced that finding the source of the arsenic contamination
of our water was "not their job," and neither would they test the arsenic to gauge
its toxicity, the Rockland Legislature has decided to enlist the aid of the Lamont-
Doherty labs. The Columbia University research center has an impressive group of
world-class earth scientists who will address the "what" and "why" questions the
corporation has refused to answer. "
Determining the type and source of the
arsenic would help avoid a health crisis and also allow sensible policies to be put in
place should the arsenic be the result of mining, farming or overdevelopment,"
according to Legislator Connie Coker. There has been a lot of high-density
development on Grandview (the site of the two wells affected), from the Adult
Student Housing complex on the Nike Site all the way down to 202.
 
[Story available only in Journal News archives]

United Water refuses to test arsenic for type and will not seek the source of the contamination
(Feb 25, 2007)

There are two kinds of arsenic, organic and inorganic--one is generally more
toxic. Yet United Water has refused to test the arsenic that appeared in our
drinking water for much of last year. They also will not investigate the source
of the contamination because, well. . . because they don't have to.
[Story available only in Journal News archives]

You might want to check out the stories
immediately below also:

United Water serves NJ with water from Rockland, but NJ has a
a much stricter standard for arsenic (5 ppb). So how did the NY
samples testing at more than 12 from the two wells not create
violations in NJ? Click here for NJ law.

Journal News editorial page criticizes United
Water's delayed arsenic notification (Feb 19, 2007)

"As the letters started appearing in Rockland mailboxes, there was no formal press
 release, no outreach to various media in the county and no mention was on the
 utility's Web site - unitedwater.com/uwny/ - to allow residents to view details of
 the testing that the letter did not contain." (We at
Preserve Ramapo are not surprised. We are still waiting for information about
population growth and the limits of our resources that was promised to us by
United Water months ago.) [Story available only in Journal News archives]

Rockland County requests arsenic test results
from United Water (Feb 18, 2007)

United Water created a problem for itself when it withheld information
about arsenic in the drinking water. Their credibility is now suspect about
the testing and notification done concerning the quality of our drinking water. The
County is looking for answers about the tests and the reports, but the larger
question about why did the arsenic levels jump is not being addressed by United
Water or the County. Preserve Ramapo asked the question and got no answers so
we have contacted a geological group and are awaiting their thoughts about it.
[Story available only in Journal News archives]

Get the arsenic memo from United Water? (Feb 9, 2007)

For those who got the letter from United Water yesterday or today, you already
know what we've been drinking. And at a time when the Water company is
re-opening wells tainted with benzene and is seriously looking at the Hudson
as a source of drinking water, we are now told two wells in Grandview have been
shut down because of unacceptable levels of arsenic. We know the company is up
against the wall because the burgeoning population numbers exceed resources, but
what exactly caused this increase in arsenic? Or is this a result of new numbers for
tolerance by the EPA, and have we been drinking the too-high arsenic-laced tap
water for years or maybe decades? The letter explains that long-term exposure can
cause some pretty serious problems.
Update: More questions surface about arsenic in Rockland water
[Story available only in Journal News archives]

Orangetown board approves United Water project (Feb 9, 2007)

Our politicians have allowed growth to reach a point where we do not have
enough water to supply the population. One of the results is that United Water
will be extracting carcinogenic chemicals from two gasoline-tainted wells to add
to the failing water supply. When Preserve Ramapo tried to get exact numbers on
the seriousness of the problem we were stonewalled by the water company. The
purification treatment plant in Orangetown will remove the contaminants and
release them into the air.  [Story available only in Journal News archives]

Looking to the Hudson for Rockland's water needs (Jan. 30, 2007)

"Rockland County is on the verge of being overbuilt and no longer has the capacity
 for all this burgeoning population growth," Mr. Matthiessen said. "We’re running
 out of room on the Tappan Zee Bridge, at our schools, at the Rockland County
 sewage treatment plant, on our roads, and all signs point toward a more serious
 issue. It’s a large issue facing not just Rockland County but the entire Hudson
 Valley." Entire text of The New York Times article here.

A cup of the Hudson next to your plate

Jan. 17, 2007 United Water plans to desalinate Hudson River water (remove
 the salt) to supplement Rockland’s drinking water. So far,
 though, no one’s talking about the tricky part—removing the
 legacy pollutants in the Hudson, which include mercury, PCBs
 sedimentized over decades thanks to GE, and Indian Point’s
 small but glowing contribution—the strontium 90 found in 25%
 of the sample fish pulled out of the river this past summer.
 It’s an estimable chemical frappe to use to mix your child’s
 formula. For one expert's opinion on this click here.

2006

A look back on environmental issues of 2006 (Dec 29)

The Journal News environmental reporter, Laura Incalcaterra, revisits 13
topics covered in her column over the year. The topics range from ladybugs to
clean air, Bear Mountain trails to sewage in our streets. [Story available only in Journal News archives]

Rockland water could soon be supplying an Orange County development (Dec 21)

As United Water is trying to reopen gasoline-tainted wells and is planning to
pump water from Lake Deforest Reservoir to wells that get dangerously
low at certain times of the year, there's news that "a Manhattan-based company
has told Rockland officials that it intends to use water from a well in Sloatsburg
to supply [a controversial] subdivision [in Orange County]." [Story available only in Journal News archives]

Water rate hike tied to finding new sources for drinking water (Dec 14)

 The 19% rate hike approved by the Public Service Commission has a few
provisos attached. United Water must do something about the dangerous
lack of pressure in the Hillcrest area, and it must find additional sources
for a water supply that is stretched almost to its limits by the sprawl
permitted by Ramapo's Supervisor St. Lawrence and his Board.
[Story available only in Journal News archives]

Water tower decision delayed in Sparkill (Dec 10)

The decision to allow a tower that will extract gasoline contamination from
a well has been postponed. United Water needs to reopen the tainted well
to augment its diminishing resources. [Story available only in Journal News archives]

Highlands still waiting for Federal funds (Nov 30)

"Two years after the federal Highlands Conservation Act was signed into law,
none of the money it authorized has been awarded." [Story available only in Journal News archives]

Safety plans for Sebago dam a year away (Nov 27)

"The dam is one of 383 high-risk dams in the state. That does not
mean the structure is in imminent danger of collapse. Rather, it means
that if the dam failed, there would be a substantial risk to human life
and property." The Lake holds 1.2 billion gallons of water and, currently,
an inundation map is being drawn that will outline the reach of flood
waters if the dam were to break. [Story available only in Journal News archives]

Groundwater under Indian Point more radioactive than reported (Nov 21)

With United Water possibly looking at the Hudson River as a new water source, Indian Point failures become more critical. The contaminated groundwater is pumped up, mixed with other water, and then dumped into the River.
[Story available only in Journal News archives]

Water pressure a factor in New Square fire (Nov 5)

"Firefighters struggled for hours last night to hold flames from a burning multifamily house in check without adequate water pressure and with a basement crammed with mattresses fueling the blaze." A recent agreement between United Water and New York State included the promise from the water company that the pressure problems in Hillcrest would be addressed.
[Story available only in Journal News archives]

Not many ripples at United Water rate hike meeting (Oct 31)

There was some grandstanding, some explaining, but very little controversy at the evening public hearing at Ramapo Town Hall. You can read the Journal News story [Story available only in Journal News archives], and the full text of the agreement is available here in PDF format. The real problem gets addressed this January (on or before Jan. 17) when United Water must file a project description with the Public Service Commission called the NWSS (New Water Supply Source). High-density development continues out of control in Ramapo while the water resources are depleted with no substantial new supplies in sight. The long-term water supply projects will come online in December 2015, if they can be found. See the projected calendar here. 

New coalition works to protect Rockland's drinking water(Oct 23)
 

"The Ramapo Highlands Coalition hopes to stem what it calls "a building boom of unparalleled proportions" by explaining the role the Highlands play and why the region must be preserved." [Story available only in Journal News archives]
 

The United Water hike and coming crisis (Oct 19)

A Journal News editorial that suggests United Water be given the requested rate hike of 26% also advises a general skepticism be adopted by users for the plans to make up for shortfalls in supply of water in Rockland. Right now, United Water is pumping water from the Lake Deforest Reservoir to the Western well field area. The company is also planning on opening two gasoline contaminated wells because there doesn't seem to be enough supply for the uncontrolled local growth. You would think a sane approach would include limiting local development, but be prepared for plans like serving Hudson River water in the future. You're not supposed to eat the fish from those waters more than once a week, but the water should be fine--even with the free PCBs
courtesy of General Electric upstream. [Editorial available only in Journal News archives] 

Water bills going up (Oct 4)

What's the inflation rate? Three percent--four percent? The rate hike, or rather the rate leap for United Water customers will be about 26%. The real problem facing the water company and residents, however, is how close are we to crossing the line into
annual demands on water resources that are so great the aquifer cannot recover from year to year? Preserve Ramapo has tried to
get United Water's estimates on the maximum population it can serve, but we have been stonewalled.

[Story available only in Journal News archives]

Solutions or Illusions? More questions about our water supply (Sept 22)

 When you look at the most recent initiatives by United Water to address the problem of greater demand and decreasing supply, the company has come up with some pretty dubious solutions. Scientists at Lamont Doherty Observatory have said we are living on borrowed time as our aquifer gets drawn down by a relentlessly increasing population. So earlier this year, United Water began connecting the Western well fields, which have been dangerously depleted in recent years, to the Lake Deforest reserves. Now the company wants to re-open two wells that were contaminated by gasoline and to build a new tower in Sparkill. Is drawing more from the same stressed aquifer really going to add to the reserves or subtract from them? Read "Water tower debated in Sparkill"
[Story available only in Journal News archives]

Watch storm drains (Sept 16)

"Heavy development has brought Rockland more impermeable areas — driveways, parking lots, sidewalks, patios and other surfaces that prevent rain and snow from slowly being absorbed into the ground, thus replenishing the vast aquifer that the Glacial Age gave this county. Much water rushes off, washing any pollution it encounters (road salt, gasoline, etc.) into storm drains or directly into waterways. Illicit discharges, such as motor oil, paints and pet waste and the illegal connection of basement sump pumps and washing machines add pollution." The growth continues unabated in some of the most populous areas, and the threat to the aquifer increases. Now there is a grant of $344,000 to be administered by the Rockland Soil and Water Conservation District to improve water quality. Divided amongst five towns, this is a very modest start to address a critical problem. [Story available only in Journal News archives]

Highlands effort needs full funding (Sept 3)

The Highlands Conservation Act of 2004 has had its funding cut by 90%. Read letter to the Journal News explaining the current status.

Reducing water pollution (Aug 30)

A state grant and the enforcement of relatively new legislation are intended to control runoff that produces pollution. In Ramapo, building and paving over open land along with illegal hookups to storm drains have created a serious threat to our aquifers.
[Story available only in Journal News archives]

Shifting the responsibility (Aug 12)

 In an editorial follow-up to an earlier story about the cleanup at  Lake Suzanne in Monsey, the Journal News says, "[All] taxpayers should  not have to fund the constantly needed cleanup of Lake Suzanne." Instead, the editor suggests, "One alternative, used elsewhere in town,  would be to total up the cleanup cost and parcel out the cost to the nearby taxpayers. The cost could be added to tax bills or placed as liens  on the property." [Story available only in Journal News archives]



United Water's Peter-to-Paul transfer begins this week (Aug 6)

United Water's own version of robbing Peter to pay Paul will be completed this week with the hookup of a new 20-inch ductile iron water main that will pump water from the Lake Deforest reservoir in the eastern region to Western Ramapo. "The move [will] allow United Water to rest wells in the Ramapo River Valley, and those in a secondary scattered network, helping to prevent the overpumping — and drying up — of wells." Increasing demand has necessitated this redistribution of resources. Ironically, the western well fields (fed by
the Ramapo River) supply about 33% of Rockland's water, and Lake Deforest is counted on for about 30%.
[Story available only in Journal News archives]

Cleaning up Lake Suzanne (Aug 4)

"Something went horribly wrong long ago at Lake Suzanne, which continues to be used as though it were a garbage can. We're not talking a few plastic shopping bags or soda cans here, but full-blown trash, everything from hay bales and good-size children's toys to tires and plastic chairs."

"This is where the Pascack Brook starts, so it's important to keep it clean. The Pascack flows through Ramapo, Clarkstown and Orangetown before entering New Jersey, where it serves as an important drinking water source." [Story available only in Journal News archives]

Well-testing law needs to be expanded (May 19)

"As of yesterday, 110 wells had been tested under the Rockland law. Of those, 62 — or 56 percent — had failed," said the county's hydrogeologist, Dan Miller.

Of wells that failed, 29 — or 26 percent of the 110 — had failed a "primary parameter," a term that describes the maximum contaminant level set by the state." [Story available only in Journal News archives]

Water Problems--Sebago dam and United Water hikes (May 3)

Two stories in The Journal News concerning water: Ramapo communitie wait for flood map concerns the Lake Sebago dam holding back a 1.2 billion-gallon lake despite its "significant deficiencies"; and United front against Rockland rate hike, which outlines legal steps taken against the 51% rate hike proposed by United Water.
[Stories available only in Journal News archives]

Protecting the wetlands (April 9)

"Nature gave Rockland its beauty, but for more than half a century now, planners and municipal officials have given away land to developers that were safety valves for flooding. The loss of wetlands not only removes needed runoff protection but reduces the recharging of underground aquifers that supply our water."
[Editorial available only in Journal News archives]

Water a critical planning issue (Journal News editorial) (April 4)

"Even if Rockland were to see the heavens open and rain fall as needed, supplying everyone who has a lawn-sprinkler system, every new home and every added shopping strip, that would not prevent the added traffic, stressed sewage systems, increased air and noise pollution, loss of open space, compromised flood plains and hillsides and reduced quality of life. In a real way, this county should be thankful it has a water supply that is at the edge. It should give officials and residents pause to seriously limit future growth."
[Editorial available only in Journal News archives]

United Water gets OK to tap 3 park reservoirs (March 27)

The legislator also said the Letchworth water supply was not a permanent solution for Rockland's water needs.

"This will be helpful," Jaffee said, "but we have significantly more needs." [Story available only in Journal News archives]

Planners have to consider water (Feb 5)

"The given in this still-growing county is that in building larger homes, most with sprinkler systems, and dense construction, such as condominiums and senior citizen housing, a supply already threatened by mere dry periods is overtaxed. It is obvious that a long-range water adequacy and use plan must be developed, one that we hope will be based not on meeting unlimited future demand but controlling it according to the resources available."
[Story available only in Journal News archives]

Preserving wetlands can pay (Feb 3)

"Without wetlands, rain and snow have less soil to seep into. Instead, the precipitation runs off into the nearest streams or other waterways without a chance to recharge the aquifers that provide a significant portion of Rockland's daily drinking water." [Story available only in Journal News archives]

West Nyack water company seeks 51% hike (Jan 31)

"County Legislator Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern, said additions to the system would not ultimately solve water issues confronting a county where development ran rampant and comprehensive planning was virtually nonexistent.

'Costs are going to continue to rise unless we control development and emphasize conservation,' Jaffee said."
[Story available only in Journal News archives]

Quarry won't become a reservoir (Jan 29)

"Rockland often faces water shortages in very hot and dry summers, when demand outpaces supply. United Water, hampered by a limited amount of water storage, had hoped to use the quarry to  store water year-round so it could be tapped during dry spells." [Story available only in Journal News archives] 

2005

Rockland sued over well testing  (Dec 24)

Five individuals have filed suit against the mandatory testing of private wells by owners looking to sell their homes. The law survived a veto by County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef, and "Daniel Miller, bureau head for water supply at the county Health Department, said that out of the 61 well tests registered since the law was implemented in August 2004, 22 had come back unacceptable." [Story available only in Journal News archives]

The Diminishing Water Supply in Ramapo  (Nov 4)

"As each new property development, subdivision or zone change is approved without regard to the consequences for the water supply, the situation will become increasingly fragile. Residents of New Orleans discovered in August that ignoring the inevitable is a strategy that works only so long. The Rockland equivalent of inadequate levees is a return to the severe multi-year drought conditions of the 1960s with a population that is already more than twice as large drawing upon essentially the same supplies." Read Professor Christie-Blick's Community View piece from the Journal.

Water Shortage and a Building Moratorium (Oct 18) Editorial

From a Journal News editorial (Oct 18): "United Water officials said normal to slightly above-normal rain and snow would be sufficient to boost the supply, but that is still playing the waiting game. Rockland and Bergen need to look at more supply, but first review building in general. We are at the point of oversaturation, and perhaps this is the time to simply limit construction. Revise zoning. Decide that very little else will be built, that we will instead focus on addressing housing needs, including affordable units, in the rehabilitation of existing stock." [Editorial available only in Journal News archives]

Restoring our Flood Plains (Oct 19) Editorial

Build one development of houses and shopping strips, and the water level rises somewhere. Build another, and the level rises higher but still hurts so one. Build 50, and the flood plains are lost; projects upstream affect those in other municipalities with no say downstream. [Editorial available only in Journal News archives]

Homeowners want water, not restrictions (Oct 14) Article

"Despite all the rain in the past several days, Rockland's still on shaky ground."[Story available only in Journal News archives]

Rockland water study to proceed (June 29) Article

"The five-year probe is being conducted to determine how much water Rockland really has. The county relies on just the rain and snow that falls upon it for its supply of drinking water, but no one knows the extent of that supply, or the rate of its replenishment." The Journal News story outlines the effort that was required to assure funding. [Story available only in Journal News archives]

Protecting the Watershed (May 10) Editorial

"We have just one opportunity to use what is left of our area land well. We cannot continue this government-sanctioned leap into the unknown, allowing developer profit and, later, taxpayer grief."  [Editorial available only in Journal News archives]

A Rising tide of issues on Water Supply (May 6) Article

"But if the rain were to stop today, it could take as little as three weeks in hot weather for water shortage issues to arise for Rockland. The county relies solely on the precipitation that falls within its borders for its supply."  [Story available only in Journal News archives]

(Time is Running Out for Ramapo (April 30) Article

"Time is running out for communities to take action to protect what is a vital drinking water source for about 2 million people."
[Story available only in Journal News archives]