Rockland County Water Task Force Hosts Public Service Commission Chair Audrey Zibelman at Latest Public Meeting

BY CHERYL SLAVIN

At its most recent public meeting last Thrusday night, the Rockland County Task Force on Water Resources and Management presented updates on the progress on all of its committees, and also hosted Public Service Commission Chair Audrey Zibelman and two other PSC officials.

The task force, which had already been formed in June 2014, has been working since the PSC’s November 2014 decision deferring United Water’s application to build a desalination plant to come up with a long term plan to ensure the safety and abundance of Rockland’s water supply. The task force is made up of community members and stakeholder representatives, elected officials and representatives from United Water.

After first noting that she was there primarily to listen and observe, Zibelman briefly addressed the gathering, stating that it was the ultimate responsibility of the PSC to ensure that Rockland’s water supply, as well as the entire state’s, is abundant, of good quality and affordable. She commended the task force as a prime example of “democracy at work,” something made possible by the high level of interest the community had taken in the issue of water supply. She also suggested that such a task force could end up being an example to the rest of the state as a workable way to solve challenges around water supply and demand.

After Zibelman’s remarks, the committees presented their reports. The Initial Demand Forecast committee, charged with the task of gathering and analyzing data on the current state of water supply and demand, has also spent time identifying various water use forecasting methods as a first step in making projections as to future needs and resources.

The committee on Systems Management reported that it has preliminarily identified alternative systems to supplement what already exists within the county. These include the unused reservoir at Cedar Pond Brook and Ambrey Pond, and the possibility of purchasing excess water from the independent systems in Nyack and Suffern. One of the priority issues for this committee is to conduct a cost/benefit analysis for the use of each of the alternative sources.

The Drought/Flood Management committee is continuing its work in determining feasible policies for water management during times of drought and flooding. The committee is seeking funding through a grant proposal to create a new drought response model. The Groundwater/Stormwater committee has been working on identifying potential new water resources as well as assessing the current state of the county’s watersheds and aquifers. It has also been exploring the possibility of impounding storm water during times of excess to be stored for later use.

The Conservation committee has been outlining programs and best practices for the development of a “water demand management plan” with the goal of reducing public consumption by 2 million gallons per day. The committee has also been working on a plan for public education and outreach. A number of the committee members also noted that although they are working diligently, they were concerned about making the PSC’s initial May, 2015 deadline for completion of their findings and recommendations.

David Stanton of United Water also presented a report on the utility’s progress to improve its service efficiency. He noted that there has been a “significant” drop in water usage over the past few months, due in part to system repairs where water losses had occurred. The shift to monthly, rather than quarterly, billing of most customers has also resulted in more accurate meter readings. He further reported that UW has gone the last 18 months with no environmental violations or safety incidents. United Water has also been participating in the search for additional new sources of water supply.

The Systems Management report had also emphasized that any plan for water management must ultimately consider regional and statewide systems as well, since water resources do not begin or end at municipal borders. Several speakers during public input echoed this concern, directly urging Zibelman to bring a statewide perspective to the issue of water supply. They also queried where the funding necessary for task force studies and models will come from, with some calling for United Water to pay those costs. Legislator Harriet Cornell, the task force chair, admitted that funding sources have yet to be fully determined.