BY MARIA BROWNSELL
Stop Desalination signs are on lawns across the County of Rockland, but what does that mean? Desalination is the process of removing salt and other minerals from sea water in a way that uses high amounts of energy which can be very costly. It is usually done in places that don’t have any other options, like in the Middle East.
United Water wants to use desalinated water from the Hudson River to supplement the reservoirs in Rockland County. Do residents in this county really want to drink water from the Hudson River? Or bathe, wash their clothes, and wash their dishes in it? The utter idea of this absolutely disgusts many people. The plant where this water will come from is only 3.5 miles downstream from Indian Point nuclear power plant and contains tritium and strontium-90. United Water claims it is the cheapest way (at $189 million) to get more water for the county they say is having a water crisis.
On Thursday, May 22, there was a public hearing held at the Orangetown Town Hall where all residents had a chance to put their comments down on the record. The purpose of the meeting was to give comments specifically on the $56.8 million surcharge that United Water wants to charge its customers to kick off the desalination project that hasn’t begun yet. They say it will be cheaper for them to pay it now then to borrow the money and have to pay interest on it. This money was already spent on things like advertising, lawyers, and lunch meat!
Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart started off the meeting, followed by a few other knowledgeable people. Rockland County Chairman Alden Wolfe made an announcement that the Public Service Commission (PSC) had breaking news that night with a recommendation that the water need is not as dire as United Water says, and pushed back the date to 2020 when it may become a real need.
“It is a validation to what many of us are saying,” said Wolfe. “But it’s only a recommendation.”
Suzanne Barclay, legislative assistant, went on to explain more about the money that United Water is asking for. She said they, with all the different expenses accrued, have never shown a budget. It is like getting a $500 credit card bill without any breakdown of what was bought. She did not recommend allowing such a surcharge to the customers.
United Water claims that the need for water in Rockland County is getting higher and higher and they will not be able to supply enough in the next year or so. The projected numbers they gave to the PSC turned out to be completely wrong. In fact, the demand for water is getting less as more efficient water systems are going into place with toilets, washing machines, etc. The summer is the only time the demand goes up significantly, as people water their lawns. The number one recommended alternative to building a water desalination plant is water conservation. Fixing problems with leaking pipes is another, as approximately 20 percent of our water is being lost this way, according to retired Chemistry Professor Ted Aaron. Aaron also pointed out the United Water has the third highest water rates in the entire country. Water from Lake DeForest was lost into New Jersey by a leaky valve in the dam recently. Making sure New York water stays in New York would also help the situation.
“The public has the absolute right to oppose a project. Our free speech should never come with a price tag,” said Wolfe. “United Water seems to be consistently hiding information.”
“The question of supply needs to be revisited before approving such a surcharge,” said Ellen Jaffee, Rockland County Legislator.
According to Audrey Fredrickson, an attorney and land use and environment advocate, there is no need for a desalination plant. In fact there would be many environment impacts, such as sea level rising, causing more storms.
“We don’t have a water shortage problem. We have a water flooding problem,” said Tom O’Reilly, an environmental engineer and member of the Rockland Water Coalition. He agreed that the surcharge is absurd and ridiculous.
Many suggested that the United Water shareholders pay these charges, not the ratepayers, many of which are on fixed incomes and cannot afford their water costs doubling.
“Desalination would not remove radiation in our water from Indian Point,” said Daniel Morrissey. “Desal is for places like Saudi Arabia.”
Another said how the water from reverse osmosis is acidic and therefore not potable. Many minerals are removed from the body by consuming this type of water, which would cause decrease in brain function, an increased rate of babies born with Down syndrome and many more negative impacts. Dr. Isadora Guggenheim, who practices environmental medicine, agreed about an increased amount of cancers and auto-immune diseases especially in children and the elderly from this exposure. There would be a major human health impact.
Many people, both political and not spoke out against the surcharge that United Water wants to impose. All with strong researched points and many with helpful suggests. In the end, all agreed that Rockland County is not currently in need of a new water supply, but could benefit from alternate water solutions for both now and the future. The charges that United Water wants to collect from spending obscene amounts of money on a project that has not been approved is not supported by elected officials or the general public. As of now the PSC recommends the need for additional water to not be significant until at least 2020.
For more information, check out www.NoDesal.com.