The Rockland County Legislature’s Environmental Committee voted unanimously Wednesday night to support the request of Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee asking the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) to reopen its proceedings from 2006 on Rockland’s water supply.
The ruling led the PSC to ask United Water to develop new water sources, and United Water then proposed a desalination plant in Haverstraw. Committee Chair Alden Wolfe made multiple mentions throughout the meeting that the committee was not voting for or against the desalination plant, but was simply voting to ask for a reopening of the proceedings.
“We do not decide whether there will be a desal plant or not,” Wolfe said. “We do not set the rates. We do not do any of that.”
Chairwoman of the Legislature Harriet Cornell spoke out in favor of reopening the 2006 proceedings.
“There is new information that has come to light since the rate case was decided about five years ago, or there abouts, and that the new information made a difference in terms of looking again and reopening the rate case,” she said.
She said that in the county comprehensive plan, Rockland Tomorrow, there are a number of water supply recommendations, including to develop a county water policy and to promote conservation. Cornell said that the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) included a few alternative options that weren’t really studied. According to Cornell, the only two studied in the DEIS were the desalination plant and using the Ambrey Pond reservoir in Stony Point.
She also talked about a five-year U.S. Geological Survey conducted for the county.
“The report indicated that there was really more water available than had been thought at the time of the rate case, and since over 90 percent of United Water’s customer base is residential and it appears that much of the peak demand use is due to swimming pools, lawn watering, air cooling, activities that are really within the regulatory control of the county, that if we did move to implement these kinds of conservation opportunities and were better stewards of supply that we have, we really don’t need a new plant at this point in time," said Cornell. "What I was suggesting is that we give conservation and these other options three to four years, at least, to make a difference. This would not close the door on a desal plant or anything else in the future.”
Haverstraw Town Supervisor Howard Phillips spoke during the meeting about how growth in the county will create a need for the plant eventually.
“It’s going to be here,” he said. “Sooner or later, we’re going to see such a demand.”
Phillips also talked about the last time Rockland had a severe drought and how it impacted parts of the county.
“This project now has been going on for six years. Six years,” he said. “I was a county legislator in 1999 when we had the last severe drought. The only way we got past that drought was called Hurricane Floyd. We were ready to impose great restrictions. New Jersey already had imposed restrictions. It was a dire time, and if anybody tells you that there was sufficient water back then, they were either lying or they were living in a cave. In the villages of Haverstraw and West Haverstraw, it got so bad that the fire chiefs were getting together because we did not have enough pressure. That was due to lack of water.”
Since the resolution passed, it will go to the full legislature in the future. Legislator Christopher Carey said the reason he voted in favor of it was so the conversation could continue with the full legislature.