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Rockland’s water system management issues, sizable leaking have persisted for decades


Photo: George Potanovic
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For immediate release

June 30, 2015

Jay Burgess, Director of Communications, Scenic Hudson, 845-473 4440, ext. 222
George Potanovic, Communications Director, Rockland Water Coalition, 845-429-2020
Cliff Weathers, Communications Director, Riverkeeper, 914-478-4501, ext. 239

Desalination is unnecessary; fixed mains and conservation can meet Rockland’s needs

A revealing presentation by water-conservation expert Amy Vickers to the Rockland Comprehensive Water Management Task Force finds that there was never a valid basis for a proposed desalination plant on the Hudson River in Haverstraw, and that 2.5 to 3.4 million gallons a day (MGD) of lost water could be recoverable through reasonable infrastructure repair measures. A further 1.9 to 3.6 MGD could be saved through customer-oriented conservation measures in Rockland County, according to Vickers. Altogether, the presentation reveals that the county can save 7 MGD of drinking water through conservation efforts and management of system leaks.

United Water’s proposed desalination plant – halted by the Public Service Commission (PSC) last fall after the need for it was challenged by area residents and elected officials – was to provide about 7.5 MGD.

Vickers’ presentation, soon be released as a report, raises many issues about the United Water system. The analysis is said to show high system loss in Rockland County’s water supply and is critical of the private company’s accounting of water resources. Vickers’ presentation indicates that United Water can dramatically improve the way it provides drinking water to Rockland residents.

According to Vickers, United Water has supplied erroneous, incomplete and inconsistent data. Once correcting for these errors, Vickers found that United Water has significantly underestimated water leakage from their system.

Vickers presented her findings before the Rockland County Water Task Force on Saturday, June 27 at Rockland Community College.

In 2006, the PSC ordered United Water to develop plans for a long-term water supply project. United Water proposed to construct a desalination plant on the Hudson River to produce up to 7.5 million gallons per day when operating at full capacity. During years of review, residents, elected officials and community groups successfully challenged whether there was a need in Rockland County for that volume of water. In Fall 2014, the PSC challenged United Water and the Task Force to look at alternative sources of water supply and develop a conservation strategy and plan. Vickers was hired as an independent expert by the Task Force to analyze customer and system water use, applying industry standards of the American Water Works Association.

Vickers’ findings indicate there is significant untapped potential in United Water’s current system and therefore the need for any new water supply in the foreseeable future is doubtful. The findings in Vickers’ presentation include:

  • Water demand in Rockland has been flat since the year 2000, even though its population has increased 11 percent during that time.
  • United Water has allowed high system losses to persist for decades.
  • Data supplied by United Water is incomplete and inconsistent, making it nearly impossible to identify true volumes of water supplied and consumed.
  • Errors in United Water’s New York American Water Works Association Audit Reports underestimate leakage recovery potential by up to 2.5 millions of gallons per day.
  • Under its current schedule, United Water’s main replacement schedule will take 704 years. Such a slow schedule will almost certainly lead to more system leakage in the coming years.
  • The DEC recommends that water systems are completely surveyed every three years. However, United Water is currently on a 14-year schedule to survey its system.
  • It is doubtful that there is a need for additional water supplies at this time. Between recoverable leakage and customer-oriented conservation, Vickers found potential water savings of 4.4 to 7 MDG – or 15-25 percent of untapped capacity – within UWNY’s existing system.

Hayley Carlock, Environmental Advocacy Attorney at Scenic Hudson, said, “Ms. Vickers’ findings make clear that better management of Rockland County’s water supply, along with reasonable conservation measures by consumers, can prevent the need for any additional water supply in Rockland well into the future. We look forward to the second phase of the Rockland County Water Resources Task Force’s water conservation study, which will further refine the potential for water savings and provide plans for implementation.”

Vickers says that a more aggressive rehabilitation and replacement of water mains is needed. In addition, she’s recommending consumer conservation to ensure that Rockland County has an adequate water supply going forward. The estimated savings could be between 4.4 and 7 million gallons a day, which equals about 15-25 percent of total current system capacity.

“An independent expert was needed to review United Water’s data on customer use and systems management. The Rockland County Water Task Force was fortunate to retain Ms. Vickers, a nationally renowned water conservation expert, for this important analysis. Ms. Vickers’ analysis has uncovered serious problems with the data reported to the PSC and mismanagement of our water supply – problems even beyond what the coalition had suspected. There appears to be a serious lack of proper accountability. However, the good news for all of us is that sufficient water capacity exists within our current water system – nearly equal to the total amount promised with desalination – but at far less cost to consumers and less harm to the environment. To move ahead expeditiously, the Rockland Water Task Force needs full transparency by United Water and far greater oversight by the Public Service Commission,” says George Potanovic of the Rockland Water Coalition.

The meeting was convened by Rockland County Legislator Harriet Cornell, who heads the Task Force. Along with the public, United Water officials were in attendance. The public was invited to comment on Vickers’ findings.

“This analysis of how Rockland County’s water supply is being managed is simply stunning,” said Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay. “Not only does it prove that desalination is unnecessary and inappropriate, it shows just how bad the situation in Rockland really is. This is a wakeup call for public officials at every level – they need to work together to bring water supply management in Rockland County under control, before it gets any further out of hand.”

The PSC will review Vickers’ presentation. The final report by Vickers is pending.

Click here for a PDF file are Vickers’ presentation slides

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