New Paltz Scrambles for Backup Water Source

The Town of New Paltz has yet to secure an alternate water source for the first Catskill Aqueduct shutdown in October 2018 — branding itself as the only community out of 74 who receive water from the aqueduct without such a source.

In 2014, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) provided the town with $2.5 million to explore the area and locate a backup water supply for the impending shutdown. The town identified an aquifer below the Plains Road community as the most viable long-term source; Plains Road would become Water District No. 5 in the Town of New Paltz. The intended water source would be used to not only supply the town with water through the October 2018, October 2019 and October 2020 shutdowns, but to also act as an emergency backup supply, should the aqueduct be compromised in the future. 

However, members of the Plains Road Water Watch, a group of Plains Roads residents who oppose the project, took up legal action against the town. The case is still pending, as the town and the DEP are trying to negotiate with the litigants. Those involved in the case will meet sometime in mid-September to determine if a settlement is possible, according to Village of New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers.

Rogers said that although the DEP is not legally obligated to provide the community with water in the event of a shutdown, they are helping New Paltz to find a source out of ethical reasoning. Rogers had recently requested an additional $2 million from the DEP for additional exploration of a different groundwater source, to which the DEP denied.

“If the DEP is going to spend money on repairing and cleaning the aqueduct, a project that is disruptive to the town receiving water, the cost of rehabilitating the aqueduct and the cost of aiding us to have a backup source ratio should be equal,” Rogers said. “We face issues with our infrastructure, such as water pipes, that other neighborhoods don’t.”

Although New Paltz has a reservoir on Mountain Rest Road, its capacity can only supply the town with water for 12-15 days. This presents an issue, as the three shutdown periods are 10 weeks long each. 

According to Adam Bosch, director of public affairs for the New York City Watershed, New Paltz is considered by the DEP to be “in a critical position, where the pursuit of securing a water source is urgent.” 

Should the litigants of Plains Road refuse to drop charges, the DEP is prepared to spend $8 million for the construction of a temporary on-land pipeline that will connect the town’s water main to the Delaware Aqueduct during shutdowns.

According to Bosch, this is an extraordinary measure the DEP is willing to take in order to ensure water for the community. 

“In an ideal situation where the town was able to find its own source, we would rather not deploy this option,” Bosch said. “This situation highlights the level of water insecurity New Paltz has.”

The pipeline to the Delaware Aqueduct as a “Band-Aid solution” illustrates why the town and DEP are so fiercely in pursuit of creating a Plains Road water district. As stated before, the DEP urges a long-term, permanent backup water supply for communities who are serviced by the aqueduct in the case of an emergency situation. What’s more, the Catskill Aqueduct shutdown is only one puzzle piece in the DEP’s larger intended project of repairing the Delaware Aqueduct in 2022.

The Delaware Aqueduct, the Catskill Aqueduct and the Croton Reservoir make up the New York City Water Supply. These three separate systems are comprised of 19 reservoirs and three lakes. The three systems deliver 1.1 billion gallons of water per day to 9.5 million people in New York City and 100 million to 74 communities north of the city located in Ulster County, Orange County, Westchester County and the Hamlet of Wallkill. This system is the largest municipal water system in the nation. 

According to Bosch, the city compared the construction of its first components of the Catskill water supply system to the great public works of Rome, Egypt and Babylon. The Ashokan Reservoir, Catskill Aqueduct and other components built from 1907-1915 were designed as large buildings with many decorative segments because the architects saw that first part of the system in the Catskills as their contribution to the great public works of the world. The Delaware Aqueduct was turned online in 1944, and was built to the same standards but with more humble structures.

At 85 miles long, however, the Delaware Aqueduct is the largest tunnel in the world. The DEP is preparing to spend $1 billion on repairing the aqueduct in 2022, making it the largest repair in the 175-year history of New York water systems. The aqueduct was found to be in need of repairs in 1990 when an electric utility worker in Newburgh noticed water shooting up into the air from under the Hudson River. It was soon discovered that this leak was causing a loss of 20 million gallons per day — 20 times the amount of water New Paltz uses per day. 

In order to go forward with repairs of this magnitude, the DEP saw it prudent to ensure that the other components of the water system were in optimal working condition. This includes the cleaning and refurbishing of the Catskill Aqueduct. In its early days, the Catskill Aqueduct yielded 660 millions gallons per day (MGD). Today, due to years of biofilm build-up, the aqueduct pumps 590 MGD. In the rehabilitation of the aqueduct, the DEP hopes to see yields of 630 MGD, according to Bosch. 

After subsequent water systems are working at optimal condition, the DEP will go ahead with a six-month shutdown of the Delaware Aqueduct, a time where a long-term water source may be necessary in the event of complications. 

New Paltz can be assured that they will have some sort of water supply during the October 2018, 2019 and 2020 shutdowns, however, the DEP continues to encourage the fruition of a permanent source.