Public Comment on Controversial Rockland Desalinization Plant Closes This Week

Unsafe, Unneeded Project Would Pit Water Rights of Rockland County and New Jersey Residents Against Each Other for Corporate Profit at Both Ends
Rockland Legislature Passed Unanimous Resolution to Postpone

A private, for-profit, multinational corporation wants to make homes and businesses throughout water-rich Rockland County pay to drink desalinized brackish water taken out of the Hudson River’s Haverstraw Bay, 3.5 miles from the leaking Indian Point nuclear plant. United Water New York (UWNY) is a subsidiary of the international Suez Environnement Group based in France. It proposes to build a desalinization plant that would pipe treated Hudson River water into homes and businesses throughout Rockland County, greatly increase water costs and energy use, degrade the environment and drinking water quality, permit more of Rockland’s reservoir water to be sold in New Jersey, and create a destructive, farreaching precedent for desalination in water-rich areas as a tool for water speculators. It would also generate huge profits for United Water New York and United Water New Jersey. The public comment period closes on April 20, after just one day of public hearings and just three months to absorb United Water’s 4,000-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which few people have read. Among those who have are an independent economist and hydrologists hired by the citizens’ group Rockland Water Coalition. They found it riddled with gaps, questionable methodologies and unreliable cost estimates. Rockland municipal, county and state officials are calling for an extension of the comment period, including in a unanimous resolution that passed the Rockland Legislature. Some 20,000 residents have signed petitions opposing the project. But the issue remains underreported in major media, and time is running out.

The following experts and advocates are available for interviews now on what concerned citizens need to know about the Rockland desalinization plant:

  • Bob Dillon – associate member, Rockland County Water Quality Committee; member, Rockland Residents Against Flooding Tomorrow (RAFT); member, Rockland Water Coalition
  • Manna Jo Greene – Environmental Director, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. Peg Kurtz – president of the Rockland County chapter of the Sierra Club
  • George Potanovic, Jr. – President, Stony Point Action Committee for the Environment (SPACE); member, Rockland Water Coalition Laurie Seeman – associate member, Rockland Water Quality Committee; member, Rockland Water Coalition
  • Eric Weltman – Senior Organizer, Food & Water Watch WHEN &

These experts are available for phone or in-person interviews now. They are based in the New York area and can travel as necessary. To request an interview or for more information, contact Stephen Kent, skent@kentcom.com, 914-589-5988.

WHY? Like Rockland’s water, the flow of reliable information to those who need it is also threatened by UWNY and its proposed desalination plant. The fast-track DEIS process has limited opportunities for public scrutiny and comment, leaving it to local citizens’ groups to uncover and point out the problems with the proposal, and leaving area residents with a steep learning curve on a complex issue to climb fast. Examples of points that need scrutiny include:

Public health threats: Haverstraw Bay is brackish, has industrial discharge and is not classified by New York State as a drinking water source. The desalination plant’s intake of River water would be sited 3.5 miles from the Indian Point nuclear plant, which is leaking tritium and strontium-90 and other radioactive isotopes into the Hudson River. Tritium cannot be removed by the plant’s reverse osmosis process. Low levels of strontium-90 have been found in test results of a pilot operation. Health and safety impacts of such low-level exposures in drinking water have not been adequately assessed. Suez Environnement Group’s parent company GDF Suez is a major owner/operator of nuclear plants.

Environmental threats: Withdrawing 10 million gallons of water and injecting 92,000 gallons of wastewater a day, desalination would damage the sensitive, critical habitat of Haverstraw Bay, expressly violating existing water resource conservation and coastal management plans, and further compromising declining fish populations, including Atlantic sturgeon which are on State and federal endangered species lists. Residents are also concerned it would accelerate overdevelopment of an area already burdened with heavy development pressures.

Needless expense: Desalination is the most energy-intensive and expensive form of drinking water there is, and UWNY has testified about possible “rate shock” when consumers get the bill. Desalination should be a last resort for arid places with no choice. Yet Rockland is water-rich and has a large reservoir that together with groundwater sources should adequately supply residents’ needs given proper management. A 2011 United States Geological Survey survey released after United Water’s test plant was already built shows Rockland has plenty of groundwater resources to meet resident needs – more than previously thought. But if Rockland needs more fresh water in the future, conservation, green stormwater infrastructure practices and recycling can provide it without resorting to an extremely expensive, energy-intensive desalination plant.

UWNY has violated industry best practices by virtually ignoring more appropriate, less expensive or invasive options, such as wastewater return, that don’t involve building large infrastructure and making large profits for the company. If it succeeds in Rockland, that pattern is likely to be repeated throughout our region and to reverberate nationally. Selling Rockland’s water to New Jersey: United Water New York is owned by Suez Environnement which profits from privatizing water resources around the world and made over $18 billion in 2010. If it builds the new plant, Rockland residents would bear the capital costs, while UWNY would charge them for the desalinated water. Meanwhile UWNY and its affiliate United Water New Jersey also make money by discharging water from Rockland’s DeForest Lake Reservoir into New Jersey, where residents pay to use it.

With more of Rockland’s water coming from a desalinization plant, less would be drawn from the DeForest Lake Reservoir, leaving more of its water to spill into New Jersey for use there. United Water has a history of sending much more of the Reservoir’s water to New Jersey than its discharge permit allows, and was fined by the NYSDEC for doing this in 2007. Data from the United States Geological Survey indicates excess releases from Lake DeForest to New Jersey have continued for decades, and between 1991 and 2007 United Water took roughly double the permitted limits. Yet when the reservoir was built, the NYS authorization for it stated that it was to be “operated solely for the benefit of the citizens of Rockland County. The only benefit to the Hackensack Water Company (United Water New Jersey) and the people of New Jersey is the incidental benefit of a regulated flow in the river.” The desalinization project pits the interests and water rights of Rockland against New Jersey, with United Water profiting at both ends.

For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact Stephen Kent, skent@kentcom.com 914-589-5988

Submit your comments the DOC and DEC to these addresses:

The New York State Department of State Division of Coastal Resources
One Commerce Plaza
99 Washington Avenue Albany, New York 12231
Telephone (518) 474-6000; Fax (518) 473-2464
cr@dos.state.ny.us

Christopher Hogan
NYS DEC – Division of Environmental Permits
625 Broadway, 4th Floor Albany, NY 12233-1750
depprmt@gw.dec.state.ny.us

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