Seven communities along the Hudson River are banding together to enhance water quality protections. They get their drinking water from the Hudson and want to ensure their source is protected. The move is part of recommended actions from a report commissioned by a local environmental group.
A new report identifies key actions needed to protect water quality in an area where the Hudson River is the drinking water source, through five intakes for the seven communities serving 100,000 people. One recommendation is that the communities form an Intermunicipal Council, and leaders from these communities on both sides of the river, from Rhinebeck to Esopus, are keen. Dan Shapley is water quality program director for Riverkeeper, which commissioned the report from the Center for Watershed Protection. He says a major factor in the communities joining together is the uptick in crude oil transport.
“This is a new threat that emerged over just the last five years, say. So the risk of a catastrophic spill knocking out the drinking water supply for these communities really woke everybody up to the importance of this, I think. That was one of the catalytic moments,” Shapley says. “The other thing was Newburgh’s drinking water crisis.”
PFOS contamination was found in Newburgh in 2016. State officials say it came from the historic use of firefighting foam at Stewart Air National Guard base. Bill Carlos is Town of Poughkeepsie Councilman.
“This is the Hudson River. There’s only one; it’s this one,” Carlos says. “We need to stand together to protect it.”
Carlos, who also serves on the Joint Water Board at the Poughkeepsie Water Treatment plant, agrees the biggest threat to the drinking water source is oil.
“From about four hours north of here, tidal flow, to five hours south of here, tidal flow, if it goes in the water, five hours later it’s going to be where our intakes are,” Carlos says.
The report is the first to use Riverkeeper’s new “Drinking Source Water Protection Scorecard” to develop recommendations. The scorecard is a self-assessment tool, available on Riverkeeper’s website. Shapley says Riverkeeper developed the scorecard after analyzing what it says was a failure to adequately protect the City of Newburgh’s public drinking water supply.
“We developed this tool for other communities to assess themselves to say, is our public drinking water supply vulnerable like Newburgh’s or is it really well protected like New York City’s?” says Shapley. “That’s essentially what you get from going through the scorecard that we produced.”
And here’s what he found.
“Frankly, like most communities in New York state, we’re more like Newburgh. Newburgh has been particularly unlucky, but most, we have poorly protected public drinking water supplies in our state. That’s my assessment after having looked at community after community after community,” Shapley says. “We have tools available. We have regulations, we have rules, but we’re not well coordinated in implementing and enforcing those rules, and this is, this project is setting us on a new course.”
Shapley says the scorecard is a replicable tool communities can use to become proactive in drinking water source protection.
“So what we are trying to do here is to make sure that these communities can work together, that they are competitive for a lot of the state grants that are now available out of the Clean Water Infrastructure Act to invest in infrastructure and to invest in source water protection to really bring that money and invest it wisely here in the Hudson River, and make sure that for the next 50 years, 100 years, these communities are protecting their drinking water.”
Randy Alstadt is water plant administrator at Poughkeepsie’s Water Treatment Facility, the country’s first such facility which was placed into service in 1872.
“I think it’s awesome that we’re going to do something. I know it’s been in the back of my head forever but I don’t have the time to do it,” Alstadt says. “And when Dan and Riverkeeper stood up and said, hey, we’ve got this scorecard and we’re going to see what we can do here, and Gary Bassett said, let’s get the utilities together, all the customers together, it was just awesome. And now we’re doing stuff. It’s great.”
Gary Bassett is mayor of the Village of Rhinebeck, one of the seven communities. The others are the Town of Rhinebeck; City and Town of Poughkeepsie; and the Towns of Esopus, Hyde Park and Lloyd.