Thursday, August 7, Orangeburg Library (upstairs meeting room), 7 pm.
Breakthrough Desal Hearing by NYS Public Service Commission October 1-2, 2013
The state Public Service Commission (PSC) held two hearings in Rockland on October 1 and 2, intended to get information from the public about the question of the need for the desalination project planned by United Water (UW). The plant would use water from the Hudson, processing it into drinking water. Before these hearings, there was no question of need, and UW had been proceeding with an environmental impact statement with the state Department of Environmental Conversation.
Photo shows former Commissioner of the NYC Department of Environmental Protection Albert Appleton speaking as an expert against need for the desalination plant. Photo © 2013, George Potanovic, Jr.
What Happened at the Hearings
Significantly, three of the five Public Service Commissioners attended at least one hearing, a sign of the PSC’s commitment to revisiting the question of need.
At both hearings, the first presentation was made by UW. Public officials from the local, municipal, county and state levels then spoke, including candidates for political office in the upcoming November elections. Additionally, technical experts retained by the Rockland Water Coalition raised objections to the project. Among these experts was Albert Appleton, former head of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, who presided there over a 40% reduction in water use and the saving of billions of dollars for the city.
Citizens asked questions of the PSC and UW, and made statements. Many officials and citizens pushed beyond the scope of the hearings, which were to be about need, and commented on other aspects of the desal proposal (Photo © 2013, George Potanovic, Jr.):
- The huge cost of the project, which could push water rates for the average family up $400-$500 annually;
- Health questions, mainly about the efficacy of the reverse osmosis technology selected for the plant, and whether it could truly remove all toxins from Hudson River water, especially deuterium, a radioactive form of water, and strontium 90, both leaking into the river from Indian Point 3.5 miles upstream;
- The harm to Haverstraw Bay, where the project would suck up significant quantities of water, food for juvenile fish, fish larvae, and small fish, affecting not only the Hudson River fishery, but the Atlantic fishery as well.
Regarding the original question of need, many speakers noted these points:
- UW has sent far too much water to our neighbors in New Jersey, violating interstate agreements dating back to the 1950s. Moderating these outflows would allocate more water for Rockland;
- The rate of leakage in the Rockland water distribution system is significantly higher than the generally accepted standard. Fixing these leaks would save a lot of water;
- Conservation measures at all levels would save yet more water.
Rockland Water Coalition and its allies turned out about 1,000 citizens on October 1, and about 600 on October 2. One attorney whose experience goes back to the struggle over the Shoreham nuclear plant in Long Island, ultimately closed under Gov. Mario Cuomo, said that he had never seen such a large turnout. The coalition got this involvement through phone banking, emails from concerned elected officials and candidates, email messages from the key coalition groups such as Riverkeeper, Scenic Hudson and from grassroots groups, newspaper ads, leafleting on several weekends before the hearings, radio interviews, Restaurant Week in Rockland Restaurants, lawn signs, Facebook, and letters to the editor, AARP and Sierra Club print newsletters, and many personal appeals.
This is a sample of media coverage of the hearings:
IT IS CRITICAL THAT YOU TELL GOVERNOR CUOMO THAT ROCKLAND SAYS NO TO DESALINATION!!!
The state is close to making the decision on United Water's proposed desalination plant for Rockland County. Your voice can make a difference now! Don't let this unsafe and unaffordable proposal get railroaded through. We have safer, better choices.Call Governor Cuomo's office at 518-474-8390. You can leave a message any time day or night - it only takes a minute. Make your message even stronger by emailing also to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What's Wrong with Desalination?
United Water has proposed a desalination/water treatment plant which would draw water from the Hudson River for Rockland’s drinking water. In addition to desalination, the plant would use reverse osmosis to remove contaminants, including PCBs and radionuclides such as strontium 90. While health concerns come to mind first, there are a number of other excellent reasons that a coalition of environmental and civic groups, including Rockland Sierra Club, have joined together in the Rockland Coalition for Sustainable Water, in opposition to this proposal. United Water's draft environmental impact statement will be filed in the fall, followed by a public comment period.
Safe to drink?
While experts agree that reverse osmosis can reduce the known pollutants to levels below EPA’s “level of concern”, many residents are concerned that trace amounts in drinking water may pose long term health risks. The proposed site for water intake is across from Indian Point, which is leaking radioactive byproducts into the river, and downriver from GE’s dredging of PCBs and adjacent to hazardous waste sites. While the radionuclide tritium cannot be removed, it is below the "level of concern".
Escalating energy use & costs
A highly energy intensive process, reverse osmosis water treatment would lock us into a long term escalation of energy use at a time when we should be rapidly reducing energy use in response to climate change and it would peg our water rates and taxes more closely to rising energy costs.
Impact on the Hudson River ecosystem
In addition to the impact of water withdrawals and the discharge of brine back into the river, desalination plants kill fish and other organisms in their machinery. Haverstraw Bay, the proposed site, is an essential habitat for a number of fish species.
Sustainable limits to development
Tapping into the Hudson River to quench the thirst of these new developments will not create a sustainable supply of water. Instead, it will further overdevelopment. Our natural resources cannot sustain this endless development without the loss of a sustainable ecological balance.
What are the alternatives?
We need a fresh look at a sustainable water policy, a comprehensive approach to water management that includes the real potential of aggressive water conservation and efficiency programs, rainwater harvesting and gray water reuse, as well as resource-based limits to development. The Rockland Coalition for Sustainable Water was formed to take a critical look at the impacts of the proposal to treat water from the Hudson River for drinking water and to advocate sustainable water management policies, such as conservation, in Rockland County. The coalition includes Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Food and Water Watch, Nanuet Civic Association, Preserve Ramapo, Rockland RAFT, Ramapo River Watershed Intermunicipal Council, Ramapo River Committee, Rockland Sierra Club, Stony Point Action Committee for the Environment (SPACE), Torne Valley Preservation Association and West Branch Conservation Association. For more information, visit www.sustainablerockland.org.
Please take a moment to learn more about this topic by reading this article published by Sierra Club Atlantic entitled Desalination Takes a Foothold in the Wet Northeast: http://newyork2.sierraclub.org/content/desalination-seeks-foothold-wet-northeast.