By Rebecca Martin
Today, a press release was printed in the Daily Freeman that was written by the Water Department Superintendent Judy Hansen.
In it, the Ashokan Reservoir is noted as part of Kingston’s emergency water planning. I’ve bolded this text in the body of the press release below that states:
“The availability of back-up supplies like NYC’s Ashokan Reservoir is also part of our emergency planning. Kingston has the right to obtain water from the Ashokan Reservoir and was poised to access this supply in both 1957 and 1981.”
If I am reading this correctly, it appears that the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) would also be an agency listed, if the action in the EAF had included Kingston and its water source (which it should have).
What could that mean? Maybe that there are grounds here for New York City to also have a say in this. It’s worth investigating.
For Immediate Release
Monday, October 6, 2014
Proposed Sale of Water to Niagara Bottling LLC
Kingston Water Department
As has been reported, the Board of Water Commissioners received a request from Niagara Bottling LLC for the sale of up to 1.75 million gallons per day (MGD) in April 2014. This request was presented to the Board at their regular meeting on April, 9, 2014. All meetings of the Board of Water Commissioners are open to the public as well as the media. Following that meeting, the Board engaged an independent engineering firm to conduct an impact analysis on the effects of the potential sale. Preliminary results of that analysis suggest that the Department has the available resources to supply and treat the requested flows. However, improvements to our infrastructure will be required to provide flows in excess of 1 MGD. Specifically, the installation of a 12-inch main parallel to the existing main, which was installed in the 1950’s to serve IBM, will be required to deliver flows to the proposed Niagara site in excess of 1 MGD. Similarly, a short section of transmission main would have to be installed near our distribution reservoir to accommodate any flows to the system in excess of 5 MGD. Both improvements are located wholly within the Town of Ulster. Discussions between the KWD and Niagara continue as Niagara works through its site selection process.
Questions have been raised in the media which focus on the wisdom of undertaking this sale as well as the adequacy of the City’s water supply during a drought or similar shortage. These are valid concerns about our drinking water. Undeniably, the Board of Water Commissioners recognizes that this is one of the City’s most valuable resources. It must be recognized that this potential sale is of only surplus water and should such surplus be limited due to a climatic water shortage or in the event of a water emergency the Department retains the ability to limit, restrict or even cease the supply to outside consumers during the duration for the protection of its residents.
The Kingston Water Department has maintained records of seasonal water shortages since they are a fact of nature which the Water Department anticipates. Plans are based on the driest years. The impact of a drought on the system is a function of precipitation as well as demand. The water restriction directed by the Department which occurred in 2012 was not the result of a lack of precipitation. Rather, it occurred due to a structural issue at our intake facility that stopped the flow of water into the Reservoir and caused a significant drawdown. Regardless, the impact on our customers was the same.
The Kingston Water Department, in close cooperation with our regulators in the NYS Department of Health and the Ulster County Health Department, closely monitor the levels in the Reservoir and the Water Department has developed protocols to deal with potential water shortage. These include various conservation measures, which, at its most severe, could include the curtailment of all non-essential water use. The availability of back-up supplies like NYC’s Ashokan Reservoir is also part of our emergency planning. Kingston has the right to obtain water from the Ashokan Reservoir and was poised to access this supply in both 1957 and 1981. In both years, while the equipment to do so was deployed for protection, its use was not necessary. Much more recently, the capability to augment our flows from both the Towns of Ulster and Esopus was developed through the cooperation and partnership of all 3 municipalities. We are grateful to both of our neighbors for working with us to develop this inter-municipal cooperation. During an emergency, water can flow from Kingston to our neighbors or from our neighbors to us. NYWARN, the mutual aid association for water utilities in New York State, establishes the framework for such an arrangement and all 3 communities are members.
The drought of 1957 was the worst on record for the KWD and Cooper Lake was depleted to 45% of its capacity, leaving only 60 days’ supply in the Reservoir when sufficient rains replenished the supply. At that time, the population of Kingston was approximately 30,000 and the average daily usage was 5.5 MGD. This included a 1 MGD commitment to IBM. Despite the conditions of 1957, the Department was able to withstand one of the worst droughts in its history while using considerably more water. IBM continued to operate. Following the events in 1957, the KWD undertook universal metering and, as a result, consumption dropped dramatically. In addition, since that time, the population of the City has decreased by almost 20% and the daily usage, including the water sale to the Town of Ulster Water Districts and Tech City, still averages 3.9 MGD.
Additionally, as part of the Department’s continuing efforts to improve efficiencies, plans are in place to conduct a system-wide leak detection survey in early 2015. Although the Department is aggressive in repairing leaks, we lack the resources to conduct a comprehensive system-wide evaluation. It is anticipated that this work will further reduce usage in the system. Finally, increasing the capacity of Cooper Lake has been discussed various times by the Board since 1961. Earlier this year, prior to being approached by Niagara about this potential sale, the Board engaged a consultant to revisit the feasibility of increasing the capacity of the Reservoir. This would provide additional raw water for the next century.
Potential Benefits of Sale:
The Kingston Water Department, like most water systems in the US, is faced with an aging infrastructure and increasingly costly regulatory mandates. Currently, the Department’s capital improvement plan calls for more than $16 million in projects aimed at major system repairs, improvements, and regulatory compliance. All must be accomplished in the next few years. In the past 3 years, $5 million was spent on construction of a new UV Treatment facility, reconstruction of our source water intake facility that was destroyed in flood events in 2010, painting the exterior of one of our 3 storage tanks, and replacement of broken water mains under the CSX tracks in the City. Later this year, we are beginning the final phase of renovations at its Water Treatment Plant, a project that is expected to cost nearly $2 million. Regardless of this sale, the remaining work must be done if the residents of the City of Kingston are to continue to enjoy an uninterrupted supply of high quality drinking water. Billing to our consumers includes itemization of a sewer fee on each bill. These fees are not retained within the Department to fund its operations and are turned over to the City Comptroller for the operation of the City’s wastewater system. The Water Board has addressed the upkeep of the system while maintaining rates for water use to the public which are among the lowest rates in the country. The KWD currently operates on an annual budget of $4 million, the lowest of any major City department. The annual payment for a $5 million bond is about $400,000 per year, with a term of 20 – 30 years for most of these projects. Considering that all of the revenue to operate the system comes from water rates and associated fees, the impact of borrowing $5 million dollars translates to a rate increase of 10 percent. Like the sale of water to IBM, which lasted more than 45 years, the possible sale to Niagara has the potential to stabilize water rates for the residents of the City of Kingston for the foreseeable future since it would provide significant capital to undertake these necessary projects.
In the 1870’s, with typhoid a persistent problem in the City and significant losses due to structure fires, the residents of Kington defeated a referendum to establish a public water system citing a fear of increasing government complexity that would raise property taxes during what was a recessionary period. When the KWD finally came into being in 1895, City fathers very deliberately created it as a financially and administratively independent department of the City and placed it under the control of a Board of Water Commissioners whose sole responsibility is the management of the system. By insulating the Department from the direct influence of politics, it allowed the Board to focus solely on the parochial needs of the Department and provided it with a dedicated revenue stream. Throughout its history, the Board has proven itself to be a diligent steward of our drinking water. As a result of those efforts, Kingston’s tap water delivers public health protection, fire protection, support for the economy, and the overall quality of life that we presently enjoy. The challenge for the current Board will be to make the necessary improvements to carry the system forward for the next 100 years. Kingston’s future depends on their success.