Plan for continued release of turbid water from Ashokan Reservoir draws angry responses
Local officials say New York City is not being held to the same standards as other local property owners when it comes to protecting waterways, and they are critical of the process under which a state protocol was developed for allowing the city to continue dumping turbid water from the Ashokan Reservoir into the Lower Esopus Creek.
Their comments came in the wake of the state Department of Environmental Conservation issuing a “draft consent order” under which the city must set permanent terms for releasing water from the Ashokan into the Lower Esopus and pay a $1.55 million fine for unauthorized chemical treatment of the Kensico Reservoir in Westchester County.
The DEC said the agreement will “reduce the impacts of turbidity, manage reservoir releases ... and provide flood mitigation in the New York City watershed and the Lower Esopus Creek.” But town of Ulster Councilman John Morrow, who lives along the Lower Esopus, said the proposed protocol appear to endorse the long-term release of turbid water into the creek.
“I think they really need to address the long-term health (of the creek) and come up with a plan to create a healthy stream forever,” he said.
Morrow also said the state appears to be granting New York City an exemption from environmental rules that other property owners must follow before they can impact a water system.
“We can’t just pollute it when we feel like it and make it turbid when we feel like it,” he said.
In the consent order, DEC officials acknowledge there are state laws intended to prevent property owners from polluting water systems and that discharges into waterways require permits.
“DEC has promulgated standards for the quality and purity of the waters of the state,” they wrote. “Under (the law), it shall be unlawful for any person, directly or indirectly, to throw, drain, run or otherwise discharge into such waters organic or inorganic matter that shall cause or contribute to a condition in contravention of water quality standards for the receiving water.”
State officials wrote those standards exist because of concern over the “risks that pathogens pose to public health.”
“Pathogens include viruses, bacteria and protozoa ...which can cause serious illness or death, especially among the very young, elderly and immuno-compromised,” the state says. Continued...
As an alternative to sending pathogens from the Ashokan Reservoir into the Kensico Reservoir in Westchester County (via the Catskill Aqueduct), where the turbidity was chemically treated, state officials have agreed with city officials on a protocol for sending muddy water into the 32-mile long Lower Esopus Creek, which starts at the Ashokan and ends at the Hudson River in Saugerties.
State spokeswoman Emily DeSantis called the protocol a “first step” toward developing formal guidelines for the releases.
“The orders outline the steps to stop the actions that cause entities to be out of compliance, but ... these steps take time to implement, so the entities may remain out of compliance for a time period while the corrective steps are implemented,” she said.
Another concern about the protocol for the releases into the Lower Esopus Creek focuses on the city being allowed to keep the Ashokan Reservoir at 90 percent of capacity. State Sen. John Bonacic for years has called for the level be brought down to 80 percent so the reservoir can capture stormwater runoff without causing downstream flooding.
“I don’t think (the consent order and protocol) went far enough, to tell you the truth,” said Bonacic, R-Mount Hope.
“This is all spin by DEP and DEC to cover their you-know-what for what has happened,” the senator said. “The DEC, which is in charge of protecting the quality of our water statewide, (is) very strict when it comes to penalties ... if you put your toe in one of these streams because you might hurt the fish.”
Kate Hudson, an attorney for the environmental group Riverkeeper, said while the protocol does not go far enough to protect the Lower Esopus Creek, there are hopeful signs that the state has acknowledged the problems.
“I am happy to see that there is funding of the preparation and implementation of a stream-management plan that is focused on the Lower Esopus,” she said. “This is a focus we have never seen DEP have because the Lower Esopus falls outside the (city’s upstate) watershed, so it (has not been) within the realm of their responsibility.”
City DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland said the protocol does address problems caused by releases of turbid water into the Lower Esopus Creek.
“Working diligently with watershed communities, the Department of Environmental Conservation and DEP developed rigorous guidelines for operating the Ashokan release channel to reduce the impacts of turbidity and flooding,” Strickland said in a press release. Continued...
Town of Saugerties Supervisor Kelly Myers said the contention that the protocol was the result of discussions with local officials is disingenuous and misleading.
“From my perspective, that man must be on another planet,” she said of Strickland. “He must be having delusions or something. Negotiating behind the scene with DEC and not including local partners is truly offensive. Not being part of that conversation, not knowing what’s going on, not having a say in it, not having a look at any of the documents before they go out to the public, having it all imposed upon us, is tremendously disrespectful to everyone locally.”
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