Commentary on Desal Plant Progress and Prospect of Issues Conference

By Michael Pointing, vice president and general manager of United Water New York

HWSP aerialI am compelled to respond to recent calls for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to hold an issues conference for United Water’s Haverstraw Water Supply Project (HWSP).

Rockland needs more water—and soon. In 2006, because of a history of droughts and a serious projected water shortage, the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) ordered United Water to have a new long-term water supply online by the end of 2015. Years of study show that HWSP is the best all-around solution to meet Rockland’s impending water crisis based on water quality, reliability, sustainability and cost. The facility will purify water from the Hudson River using a robust treatment process, including reverse osmosis.

Because this project has been studied thoroughly for seven years, an issues conference, which is unusual, especially for a water-supply project, is unnecessary. What is necessary is that the DEC be allowed to immediately file its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the project. The document, updated by the DEC as recently as May, examines all aspects of the viable water supply options and addresses over 44,000 comments raised during last year’s public comment period. Once our customers have an opportunity to review the DEC’s FEIS, they will find that it answers their questions about water quality, costs, alternative projects, conservation, environmental impacts, energy use and more.

During the past seven years, the project has been subject to a remarkably thorough administrative review, including meticulous and transparent evaluation under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) led by the independent professionals at DEC. Although not required by law, the DEC held two public scoping meetings in 2009 and two public hearings on the project last year.

As part of the SEQR process and at DEC’s direction, the company developed information for the FEIS which now includes 1,500 pages detailing all aspects of the project. More than 70 experts were consulted, many alternatives were studied intensively and information was shared with state agencies.

The company worked tirelessly to meet PSC milestones and we were set to begin construction on the project in May 2013. However, we have been unable to do so because the DEC has not yet issued its FEIS, the prerequisite which would enable us to put a shovel in the ground. As a result, on May 31, we were required to notify the PSC that we could not meet the construction milestone and we asked them to assist us in moving the project forward.

Make no mistake, this project is critical to the county’s future because Rockland is facing a water supply shortage. Just three months ago, Dr. Dan Miller, head of the Rockland County Water Supply Bureau, reaffirmed the need for more water. That’s why United Water is still committed to the project, as are more than 220,000 individuals representing business and community groups. Prolonged delays increase the potential for public health and safety concerns, fire protection problems, a building moratorium and economic development issues. Undoubtedly, these delays will also drive up customer costs.

Today, we expect the total cost of the project will reach approximately $130 million, subject to the conditions of federal, state and local permits. Including operating costs, this translates to an annual cost of about $250 for an average residential family of four, to be phased in over the next three years. Project costs are the domain of the PSC and United Water has shared those costs with the PSC regularly. It is important to note that costs cannot serve as the basis for a DEC issues conference.

Further delays, whether related to releasing the FEIS or holding an issues conference, would potentially add millions of dollars to the project cost and customer water bills. These delays are unnecessary and will not make the water cleaner or more plentiful. The urgent need for water, a thoroughly vetted project, and delay-related costs for our customers, sum up why it is imperative for the DEC to issue its FEIS.

Since 2006, both DEC and PSC staff have worked diligently to represent the best interests of Rockland residents. Their professional approach and careful analysis helped make this one of the most thoroughly studied projects in state history. But the time for study is over. Rockland cannot afford to wait any longer to have the FEIS issued. If we are to have enough water to meet Rockland’s needs by the end of 2015, we must get to work today.

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