By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
There are good reasons why water has been called the most precious resource: without it there are no communities, no businesses, no people, no life.
Here in Rockland we are blessed with several water sources, including water from deep underground and water that collects in reservoirs.
The people of Rockland deserve safe, clean, affordable water and we will take strong measures to protect our supply.
That’s why I have, in coordination with Water Task Force Chairperson Legislator Harriet Cornell, directed the Task Force on Water Resources Management to ascertain not only why we were just told that water supplied by Suez, formerly United Water, failed to meet stringent federal standards, but also what we can do differently to ensure our drinking water is 100 percent safe.
Higher than normal concentrations of THM (trihalomethane) were found in tap water in the Haverstraw area that came from Lake Deforest, our primary reservoir. We understand that THM is a byproduct of disinfectants that must be used to make sure our water is safe. But that does not assuage our concerns.
We deserve to know exactly why these levels exceeded the guidelines set by the Safe Drinking Water Act. And the fact that your county government merely acts as agent for federal regulations makes finding that information much more difficult.
When did Suez first learn about the elevated levels? How and why did it happen? Why did it take the water company one month to inform customers?
Did New York State handle the matter in an efficient and timely manner? Are the current guidelines of water quality and safety set by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency still applicable?
These are the questions I hear from many of you and we all want answers.
And I want those answers not just for myself but like many of you also four our children and grandchildren.
But just as importantly, we want assurances that this violation won’t happen again.
Safe, affordable water is directly linked to our goal of preserving a high quality of life in Rockland, as well as attracting business and development to the county, which, along with righting Rockland’s fiscal ship are my administration’s key priorities. It is also our life blood.
This most recent incident at Suez is part of the reason for the creation of the Task Force on Water Resources Management.
When I signed the resolution in June, 2014 creating the new task force, Rockland residents and elected officials were in the midst of a battle with Suez over the company’s plans to build a desalinization plant to treat water from the Hudson River so it could be used for drinking.
We said – and the Public Service Commission agreed – that the $150 million plant was not necessary and would needlessly add to the already high water bills that we pay.
The task force was formed with the goal of reducing water demand through conservation to show that our current water supply is adequate without the additional of an expensive desalinization plant.
Now the county and the task force needs to work together to make sure that the water we drink and bathe our children in remains safe, clean and affordable.
The Rockland Department of Health is responsible for oversight of the county’s public water suppliers, including, of course, Suez.
And, in fact, it was regular water quality testing that revealed the elevated THM levels.
Both Suez and the state Department of Health were notified and a risk assessment was done to determine what effect, if any, the elevated THM levels could have on the health of people drinking the water.
Good news: there’s no immediate health risk even though the THM levels exceeded federal standards by a small margin.
The Rockland County Department of Health will continue to watch the situation and ensure that Suez takes action to bring the average levels back into compliance with federal standards.
More importantly, the Water Task Force has been directed to hear your concerns, partner with professionals in our health department and answer the questions surrounding the elevated THM levels.
The task force will bring that information to the final arbiter in the process – the EPA. We will find ways to make sure that in Rockland we have 100 percent confidence in the water our families drink.
I expect that the Water Task Force, in conjunction with the county health department, will drill down on the critical issues, ask the hard questions and insist on answers.
Know that we your County Executive I will accept no less when it comes to protecting our most precious resource.