Catskill Aqueduct Maintenance

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Village of New Paltz are preparing to shut down the Catskill Aqueduct, the area’s main source of water, for 10 weeks this fall.

From Oct. 15 to Dec. 15, this 92-mile-long, decade-old, watershed infrastructure will undergo maintenance, in order to prepare for a future project to shut down the Delaware Aqueduct in 2022.

All other parts of the New York City water supply system, which is the largest in the United States, must be in the best condition possible in order to progress towards this larger and longer $1 billion project, which includes the Catskill Aqueduct. The Delaware Aqueduct is the longest tunnel in the world and supplies half of New York City’s water.

The Catskill Aqueduct is a $156 million project and it will repair a number of small leaks, replace more than 30 century-old valves, remove biofilm (a harmless bacteria that has accumulated overtime and has consequently slowed down the deliverance of water supply).

The removal of this biofilm is expected to restore an estimated capacity of 40 million gallons per day to the 595 million gallons it currently carries. When this aqueduct first began its operations in 1915, it carried approximately 660 million gallons of water per day.

“New Paltz is the only one of 74 communities [north of New York City] that does not have an adequate backup supply or a nearly-completed project to establish one,” said Adam Bosch, Director of Public Affairs at the NYC DEP. “[The] DEP continues to work with New Paltz on an approved plan to create a groundwater system that would sustain the community during this shutdown and shutdowns or emergencies in the future. That groundwater system will not be ready in time for this year’s shutdown, but it could be for 2019.”

Temporary water transmission will be provided by the water plant on Mountain Rest Road, which includes four reservoirs that hold approximately eight million gallons of water, as well as the Catskill Aqueduct once these reservoirs run low and need to be refilled. A pattern will continue throughout this shutdown, during which the DEP will pause construction for about a week to allow water to flow back into the aqueduct so that the resevoirs may be refilled.

“We purchase about 60 to 70 percent of New Paltz’s daily needs for water from the aqueduct, so we just buy some of the water as it flows down from the Ashokan Reservoir to NYC,” said Tim Rogers, Mayor of New Paltz. “The DEP has been preparing many years to undertake [this project], and this complicated construction schedule adds to those costs. It’s an enormous, expensive undertaking.”

A conservation period is also scheduled to take place from Sept. 15 to Dec. 15, while this project is underway. This declaration on the matter states, “No water from the village water system shall be wasted in any manner, nor shall any water be used for any purpose other than necessary household or business consumption.”

Students of the college and residents of the Village and Town of New Paltz are asked to be conservative and mindful of their water usage during this construction period.

“We’re trying to prepare for those worst-case scenarios,” Rogers said. “We encourage folks to be conservative, but, you know, some people will heed the advice and some won’t, so I think we’ve baked in those possibilities into all of our planning.”

Ways to help limit water usage include taking shorter showers, doing full loads of laundry and turning off running water while brushing your teeth.

Water conservation is also being encouraged on campus beyond this two-month period, as faculty and students continue to lead and create campaigns and competitions, in which all students are welcome to participate.

“Save the Flow, Save H2O,” a water conservation competition, will be held between residence halls this semester. This competition strives to inform students of methods towards sustainability.

Water meters on building levels will be measured every day, then divided by the number of students who reside in each residence hall. This will determine how much water is used, and whichever hall successfully reduces their water usage and consumption the most, in comparison to last year, will win the competition.

Sodexo, the catering company on campus, has also reduced water usage by 20 percent since the start of the semester in comparison to last year.

“This water shutdown is an opportunity for individuals to ask themselves ‘how am I going to respond to this event? What can I do as an individual? What can we do as a community to adapt to these changing circumstances?” said Lisa Mitten, Campus Sustainability Coordinator. “It’s a practice to realize that we need to make adaptations and be resilient to changes that come into our future.”

The Catskill Aqueduct is scheduled to be shutdown again by the DEP for 10 weeks in 2019 and 2020. The DEP will remain in continuous communication with New Paltz to ensure that an adequate amount of water is supplied to the community during these shutdown periods.