Water Quality Assessment of the Swamp River - Part IIII

This is the last in a series that records the proceedings of an important gathering at The Inn at Dover Furnace in Dover on June 4, 2011 that addressed local water quality issues. Over 40 members of the public were in attendance and included a few municipal officials

The Housatonic Valley Association (HVA) sponsored this strategic meeting of Harlem Valley Communities to share in this forum, which included the results of important water studies and related information applicable to our public and private water supplies in the Harlem Valley. The Baseline Water Studies and the costs of the Forum, were funded by Iroquois Gas, Constellation Energy, Berkshire Taconic Foundation, Pawling Corporation, Benjamin Companies, and Cary Institute.

Tonia Shoumatoff, Director of the New York Office of HVA, made the introductions of the panel of distinguished experts. HVA, she explained, is the oldest watershed resource non-profit organization protecting water resources in this area. HVA operates in the several states into which the Housatonic River watershed extends. The New York State office opened in 2004 and HVA’s mission is to achieve a balance between development and resource protection.

We continue our reports on the presentations:

Barbara Kendall: Hudson River Watershed Alliance

Barbara told us that the Alliance (a private, non-profit) recognizes the ecological connection between the Harlem Valley and the Hudson River. Stormwater run-off washes pollutants, including salt, into watercourses. Subject to current laws, in the NYC watershed, in southern Pawling, any disturbance in excess of 5,000 sq ft requires a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan; and in northern Pawling, the threshold is one acre. In the rest of the Harlem Valley, the one acre rule applies. The objective of this program is to get the water back into the ground, cleansed of pollution. We can reach Barbara with questions and for professional advice at Barbara@hudsonriveralliance.org.

Barbara recommended that Roundtable discussions could be held in the local communities to explore and understand the issues and the potential remedies, with support from the Alliance. The local codes could be analyzed to determine deficiencies.

She recalled that she had worked on an Intermunicipal Planning Partnership, consisting of all the municipalities in the Valley; and that Russell Urban-Meade, the Hydrogeologist, had prepared a draft of water protection measures.

Kathy Schibanoff: Kathy was present and confirmed that this draft Intermuncipal Agreement had been written, and was available. She and Barbara urged interested members of the Forum to obtain copies and to pursue this proposal. Kathy had been the former chairman of this Partnership.

Mayor Matt Alexander: Mayor of Village of Wappingers Falls

Mayor Alexander delivered a strong case for the regulation of environmental threats at the municipal level. He cited the Village of Wappingers Falls as an ideal “Poster Child for the Lack of Environmental Protection and its Eventual Costs to Taxpayers”.

He began his presentation with a brief history of the Village: How the significant feature of Wappingers Lake was constructed during the 1940s, in the deepest basin area in the Village. However, there was no planning to address the run off from the extensive upstream development that took place following the lake’s creation. Within a relatively short period of time, the lake filled with sedimentation and pollution carried by all the stormwater run off, and before long the recreational uses of the lake came to an end: like swimming, boating, fishing. Along Rt. 9, the extensive parking lots were covered with impervious surfaces (pavement), and that run off, with no remediation, and contaminated with petroleum products, also was discharged to the former lake.

Due to the changes in the hydrology, and the pollution, the Village wells, which were nearby, became unusable, and the Village had to resort to the temporary use of City of Poughkeepsie water. The Village will, however, need to develop its own permanent water supply, and its treatment. A six million dollar bond issue to pay for that is currently in the pipeline.

Flooding issues are also a growing problem. Recently, an extensive area of low lying, low income housing required emergency evacuation due to flooding. Many families required assistance to move them to safe higher elevations, and temporary housing. The elderly are those most commonly affected by such emergencies.

An estimated 10 ½ million dollars will be required to remediate the downstream areas. Overall, Mayor Alexander estimates the total cost to the Village at over $25 million, for all the proposed remediation.

In summary, Mayor Alexander stressed that Watershed Remediation costs are staggering to the public and to local municipalities. Failure to protect natural resources with sensible regulations will cost a ton of money to address at a later time, and can be the cause of a great deal of avoidable human hardship. Mayor Alexander can be reached at matt@wappingersfalls.gov

As the Forum wrapped up, HVA Director Shoumatoff, told the attendees that they would all receive information from the former Harlem Valley Intermunicipal Council that would direct them and encourage the formation of a permanent Intermunicipal Agency to follow up on the work and recommendations of the former Council.

The detailed results of the baseline water tests, can be obtained from HVA, toniashoumatoff@HVA.org

Sibyll Gilbert is a resident of Pawling, a member of the Baseline Studies Advisory Committee, Vice President of The Oblong Land Conservancy, and a member of the Pawling Conservation Advisory Board