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NYS Launches Program To Help Protect Drinking Water Sources

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USDA/Wikimedia Commons - Public Domain

New York state is launching a new initiative to protect drinking water —and looking for volunteers to take part. A leading environmental group welcomes the news.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health are co-leading the effort to provide municipalities with resources and tools to proactively protect their drinking water sources. They’re looking for municipalities to volunteer to apply. The goal is to select up to 30 municipalities and help them develop and implement a drinking water source protection plan. The state will pay the costs for the planning process. An initial $3 million in funding from the state’s Environmental Protection Fund has been dedicated to the pilot project. Dan Shapley is water quality program director with Riverkeeper. He praises the program, especially in light of the PFOS water contamination crisis that beset Newburgh nearly three years ago.

“Riverkeeper has been advocating this for a couple years, at least since the Newburgh crisis,” says Shapley. “And you can really draw a direct line from the drinking water problems in Newburgh to Riverkeeper’s call for action and the state’s, this is part of the state’s response, and we’re very happy to see this program roll out.”

Erica Ringewald is DEC spokeswoman.

“Protecting New York’s precious drinking water resources is our priority. This announcement advances Governor Cuomo’s Water Quality Rapid Response Team’s ongoing efforts to aggressively investigate and address risks to New York’s drinking water across the state,” Ringewald says. “Access to clean drinking water is fundamental to the health and vitality of our communities, and we encourage municipalities to apply for this important new program.”

The application deadline is February 15. The program will pair local officials with consultants and state water resource scientists. Communities can then take appropriate land use actions or seek financial assistance for project implementation from the $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017.

Shapley says the program will help municipalities understand the risks to their drinking water supply and develop an action plan to reduce and eliminate those risks. Such a program also could help or reduce the health and monetary costs of treatment post-contamination.

“This is essentially what has been happening in Newburgh with the state taking an active role in updating the assessment of risks and developing a plan that the community can use,” Shapley says. “It has not been a perfect process, but it’s a good, important step for Newburgh. And we expect to see that in other places.”

Other places he feels would benefit from the program include the Hudson 7, are the towns of Esopus, Hyde Park and Lloyd along with the towns and villages of Poughkeepsie and Rhinebeck. Plus, he says:

“Rockland County has a big central water supply that could really benefit. There are several communities in Westchester County that could benefit. Troy has a big reservoir that doesn’t just serve itself but several communities in Rensselaer County,” says Shapley. “And then there’s the Mohawk River which serves 100,000 people in Colonie and Cohoes, and there’s an aquifer that is sort of integral to the river and another 120,000 or so people rely on it all in the same part of the Mohawk River. So there are a lot of communities who could really benefit from increased planning and implementation of projects to protect their water at its source.”

Riverkeeper served as a member of the advisory group that helped draft the Drinking Water Source Protection Program.

“You’ve got 85,000 chemicals in use in our society, but we only look for maybe 100 or so in drinking water supplies,” says Shapley. “So the best thing we can do to prevent the next contamination event is to protect drinking water at its source and not let contaminants get into it, whatever those may be. So it may be PFOA, it might it may be PFOS, it may be something that you and I aren’t talking about today that, down the road in five or 10 years, we realize is really risky.”

Here's a link to the application.

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