Exploring Plan B for the Catskill Aqueduct

The Town and Village of New Paltz are continuing their efforts to secure a back-up water source for the 2018 Catskill Aqueduct shutdown.

Multiple sources of water have been identified since the town was notified in 1993 of the future shutdown, but all have been met with complications.

New Paltz has been unable to settle on a plan for back-up water when New York City shuts down its aqueduct for repairs. Water districts in the town and village get most of their water from this aqueduct system.  

The development of a groundwater well on Plains Road in the Town of New Paltz has been a point of contention and conversation in the past few years. The well would include a new water district, the fifth water district in New Paltz.

Plains Road is a horse-shoe shaped community of streets in the town, including Plains Road and Woodland Drive. 

Recently, the town and village had pursued “Plan B” with the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). It includes the construction of a pipe that would pump water to a different part of the city’s water infrastructure two miles south of New Paltz and the development of a well off Route 32, to New Paltz’s water treatment facility on Mountain Rest Road.

The Catskill Aqueduct shutdown is to be a series of three separate 10-week shutdowns, beginning fall 2018. The 92-mile-long aqueduct is over a century old, and is due for cleaning, valve replacements and other improvements, according to town and village officials. 

The town, during normal conditions, receives water via the aqueduct and water collected in reservoirs on Mountain Rest Road, which lies west of the Wallkill River. 

The DEP had verbally committed $2.3 million to cover the costs of construction of Plan B, with no costs to the town or taxpayers. 

But before New Paltz and the city pursue Plan B, they are continuing to talk with litigants on Plains Road who sued to stop the well development there. 

An expert analysis by DEP hired hydrologists and engineers showed that the wells on Plains Road could yield enough water to get New Paltz through the shutdowns and compliment the town’s reservoirs — whereas Plan B would only satisfy 1/5 of New Paltz’s needs.

The DEP has also dubbed the installment of the temporary pipeline that is Plan B as “an extraordinary measure” in a letter written to The New Paltz Times.  

Those in opposition of Plains Road have been vocal at public forums concerning the issue, and have filed lawsuits as petitioners against the town, naming each board member individually. 

Litigants and residents against the water districting are troubled by the prospect that the aquifer beneath the land will dry out, and their personal wells will be compromised. Each home with a well draws water directly from the aquifer and is responsible for treating the water for their own safe consumption. They also fear exploitation and capitalizing of their aquifer by the town during non-shutdown periods. 

According to Bettez, the town cannot legally sell the potential district’s water, and if a monetary value were to be put on that water and sold to the village, only those in the district would benefit financially, not the town. 

Town officials told The Oracle they would only use Plains Road during non-shutdown periods if an unanticipated issue occurred with the town’s regular water sources, including Mountain Rest Road Reservoir and the Catskill Aqueduct. However, Plains Road litigants like Gail Freeman say that this has not been made clear to the public. 

“A bullet proof proposal stating that the town would only use the aquifer for emergency purposes would be the town doing the bare minimum,” Freeman said. “However, this would not erase the rest of our concerns.” 

According to Freeman, a lack of transparency and communication between the town and those in opposition has bred a less than ideal environment for litigants. 

Bettez told The Oracle that the town board will soon be drafting a resolution clearly stating that the town will not use Plains Road for purposes other than an emergency during non-shutdown periods. This, will rectify any confusion and miscommunication litigants and the board may be experiencing. 

A 2014 report issued by a consultant hired by those against the district, HydroQuest, as a review of the Chazen-Clouser Report on the viability of Plains Road as a water source. Hydrologist Paul A. Rubin made key hydrogeologic conclusions and recommendations., namely, alternate water sources which have been dismissed by the town in recent years, such as the Wallkill River. 

As a part of the New Paltz Phase II Backup Water Supply Investigation, a 72-hour pumping test was implemented in July 2014 and yielded 400 gallons per minute (gpm), followed by 25 hours at 275 gpm, according to the New Paltz Backup Community Water Supply Project public report. 

The amount of water that has been tested, Bettez said, meaning the town can not and will not exceed during any time of usage, once they are given permits by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) or the state Department of Health (DOH).

“Litigants are concerned about us drawing water from the aquifer longer than the 10 week periods,” Bettez said. “But the state DOH will only give us permits for what we have tested for [400 gpm] and hydrologists said we can not pump more than that. So it is not like we can suddenly change our minds and decide to put more water.”

Those on Plains Road who draw quality water from their wells do not want to be placed on municipal water. However, there are residents on Woodland Road and on Plains Road, who also draw from wells, that wish to be put on municipal water due to their poor quality of water. Much of the lower quality water has been found to be contaminated with different types of coliform and bacteria. 

“For whatever geological reason, the people who live on Woodland have poor quality water, and the people who live on the west side of Plains Road have good quality water,” New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers said. “So it makes sense that the people who live on Woodland Drive would want the water district because they’d end up with better quality, less expensive, municipal water.”

On Nov. 18, 2015, a written petition by 48 property owners in the Plains Road Area submitted a document indicating those who signed are in favor of the establishment of the district. 

Bettez describes the construction of Plains Road as “buying life insurance” for the town. Unlike Plan B, Water District No. 5 would be a permanent structure, which could be used during any time of water trouble. 

Town officials say the wells would protect them against future aqueduct shutdowns or unexpected emergencies in which New Paltz loses access to NYC water.

“During non-shutdown periods, there will be no net change in the amount of water that residents will draw from their well, because the rest of the town will be using water from the aqueduct and reservoir,” Bettez said.

The DEP has given the town a May 19 deadline, where if New Paltz and litigants from Plains Road cannot reach a settlement, the town and village will need to pursue other options for water. 

“We are absolutely willing, and looking forward to forming an agreement with litigants,” Bettez said. “I’ve been saying it all along is there are many people on Plains Road that want and need cleaner, safer water. The town is doing everything it can to make sure they get it while making sure we protect the aquifer.”