Hein wants Lower Esopus impacts considered in reservoir review
Ulster County Executive Michael Hein would like to see equal weight given to impacts on the Lower Esopus Creek as well as watershed activities in an environmental review of New York City’s application for a filtration avoidance determination.
At a news conference touting an upcoming National Geographic story on the county’s steps to protect the environment, Hein said the city’s releases of up to 600 million gallons per day of muddy water into the Lower Esopus must be considered as part of the city’s effort to avoid building a filtration plant.
“I firmly believe ... those things are part of the FAD (filtration avoidance determination) and should be part of the FAD, because if it’s not considered in that respect, it’s not seen as the totality of the entire system that exists,” Hein said.
The city Department of Environmental Protection uses the Lower Esopus Creek to flush turbid, or muddy, water from the city-owned Ashokan Reservoir, but an environmental review of the impacts of that flushing has never been conducted.
“As we address the challenges we have with the Lower Esopus, with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, our perspective is very clear: We’re going to fight to make sure that there was clean water, that there (were) recreational discharges, that there was a whole host of actions,” Hein said. “We still have much work ahead of us on that front to make sure that we protect those residents that live along the Lower Esopus.”
New York City is required to get state Department of Health approval every 10 years, along with a mid-term review, to avoid construction of a water filtration plant that has been estimated to cost between $25 billion and 40 billion.
“The FAD relates only to activities in the watershed that New York City is required to take to meet objective water quality standards for unfiltered surface water supplies,” Adam Bosch, a spokesman for the city Department of Environmental Protection, said in an email. He said the “matter of releasing water from Ashokan Reservoir into the Lower Esopus Creek is separate from those activities, and it’s being handled under a separate process.”
Hein, along with municipal officials along the Lower Esopus Creek and several watchdog groups, disagree with the city’s position and have asked either the state Department of Environmental Conservation or the state Department of Health to take over the lead agency role for environmental reviews of the filtration avoidance determination. Among their arguments is language in the existing filtration determination that identifies the creek as a significant “tool” to control turbity.
The groups have pointed to the filtration avoidance determination itself as stating the releases are specifically identified, with the city itself selecting “modification of reservoir operations as the most feasible alternative for reducing turbidity levels” in the water system. The document adds that in the “remaining period of the 2007 FAD, the overall goal of this program will continue to be to control turbidity” in the Catskill Aqueduct, which starts at the Ashokan Reservoir.
Releases from the Ashokan Reservoir are conducted through what engineers identified as a “waste channel,” which was a term used by the city until five years ago when it altered years of press releases to call it a “release” channel. It was identified for use in turbidity control following studies that were part of “requirements of the 2002 FAD,” and began operations in 2010 to reduce the need for chemical treatment to settle solids in water sent from the Ashokan Reservoir to the Kensico Reservoir in Westchester County.