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November 24, 2014
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Reservoir plan irks Ulster residents; The issue is turbidity


UPSTATE, NY — In order to avoid paying up to $10 billion for a filtration system for the water that serves the residents of New York City (NYC), city officials must maintain a Filtration Avoidance Determination (FAD)that has been worked out with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the New York State Department of Health (DOH), and others groups.

The DOH in late August released a draft of revisions to the 2007 FAD, and in many places they have been well-received. Congressman Chris Gibson said in a press release, “The release of these revisions is a step forward in the process, and my Watershed Advisory Group has begun a review and analysis of this document. Given the complexity of the issue and number of stakeholders involved, this will take some time. Principally, we are looking for effective flood mitigation strategies for upstate communities, resolution to turbidity issues throughout the watershed, and equitable policies that balance the need for the conveyance of clean water to NYC with the economic viability and safety of communities in my district.”

He also urged that residents take advantage of the fact that DOH is accepting comments on the proposed revisions through October 15.

In some parts of the state, however, howls of protest have been made because a requirement in an earlier draft has been removed. The previous version required the New York City Department of Environmental Preservation (DEP), which manages the reservoir system, to address turbidity issues in the Lower Esopus Creek, but that has been removed from the document.

The turbidity issue has long been a complaint of residents in the area of the creek, and the early version of the document addressed it, saying, “The Ashokan Release Channel (ARC) has been used by the city during recent extreme storm events to help mitigate downstream flooding and, as a strategy developed through the Catskill Turbidity Control Program, to reduce the turbidity of Catskill water that reaches Kensico Reservoir. Impacts of the turbid water released during these events on the Lower Esopus Creek have become a concern for residents living in the Lower Esopus Basin.”

In other words, to reduce the turbidity in the reservoir, the operators are increasing turbidity in the creek. The early version of the document also called on the NYC DEP to address the problem and spend up to $2 million to do so.

This does not sit well with Uslter County Executive Michael Hein, who has called for public hearings on the matter. He also is quoted as saying that the NYC DEP is acting like an “occupying nation.”

The situation was also criticized by Kate Hudson, the watershed program director at Riverkeeper: “The elimination of provisions in DOH and EPA’s earlier draft FAD, that would provide $2 million to address impacts of the city’s past muddy water releases to the Lower Esopus and require DEP to fund an independent study of alternatives to those releases in the future, is a shocking betrayal of the public trust and of these communities by regulators who have an obligation to protect all New Yorkers, not just those who live in New York City.

“This irresponsible capitulation to the city undermines confidence in the FAD revision process, because it shows that the current public comment period is simply for show and that the real deliberations took place behind closed doors before the public ever got to see the document.”

Officials of the DOH have defended the removal of the language, saying that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is the agency that should be dealing with the turbidity of the lower Esopus Creek because it is technically not located in the New York City watershed.

They also said the NYC DEP has agreed to address the Lower Esopus Creek matter in a separate consent order.