By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
Many of you already know that the Rockland Department of Health declared a Stage II water emergency last week and put in place water restrictions limiting how often lawns can be watered, among other water-saving steps.
Since then, we’ve gotten a little rain, but not enough.
We are hoping that a combination of rain forecast for the next several days plus the effects of water conservation will help us avoid the next step: a Stage III water emergency.
A Stage III emergency means no lawns watering at all, with limited exceptions for golf courses, public athletic fields and nurseries.
There are other restrictions as well.
It’s not something the Rockland Commissioner of Health does lightly. The last time the Department of Health imposed water restrictions was in 2002 – 14 years ago.
We will put these regulations in place with a big dose of common sense: no landscapers or car wash operators will go out of business because of it.
We know that some of our local businesses – like landscapers – rely on water to keep their companies in operation. Water creates jobs and puts food on the table.
The last thing we want to do is take away anyone’s livelihood.
But this is the hand we’ve been dealt this summer and we have to take action, even if it means our lawns aren’t as green as we would like them to be.
This year’s drought is caused by a lack of rainfall. It is not caused by anyone sending water out of state.
Lake Deforest is currently at 85 percent of capacity.
The amount of rain that has fallen in the area was 36 below average in March through June.
July hasn’t been much better.
That lack of rain forced us to take water from a reservoir in Sloatsburg to augment the Ramapo River.
If we don’t have enough water in the Ramapo River, we can’t use wells fed by river that provide 20 percent of Rockland’s annual water supply.
That’s why we put the restrictions in place.
In the summer, between 10-12 percent of our water comes from the Ramapo River wellfield. Another 40 percent comes from Lake Deforest. Four percent comes from lakes at Letchworth. The remaining 46 percent comes from system wells.
We will get through this crisis as we have before.
But the drought of 2016 serves to remind us once again that our water is precious.
Water makes it possible for people to live in Rockland and an adequate supply is necessary to keep our economy going.
Towns and villages in Rockland are often asked to consider new development – both residential and commercial.
We’ve been lucky that our water supply has been adequate for our needs.
But towns and villages must balance responsible development with the reality that our water supply is not limitless.
That’s responsible planning, which, sadly, we know has often not happened in some parts of the county.
Municipalities owe it to the rest of the county not to allow development that cannot be sustained by out water supply.
Before any town or village approves even one more house anywhere in Rockland, there’s one crucial question that must be always be asked: Is there enough water?
Towns and villages cannot be afraid to limit development when the answer is “no.”
We’ll get through this year’s drought, even if it means our lawns are brown and some of our gardens withered.
But this dry spell serves as a warning that our water can only go so far.
Rocklanders have faced crisis before … and prevailed. We will do so again. On that count, I have every confidence.