The Civic Scene: QCC meeting spotlights protecting water sources

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Speakers at the recent meeting of the Queens Civic Congress described their activities to protect the Croton Watershed in Westchester County and prevent the building of a water filtration plant in Van Cortland Park in the Bronx. The Croton Watershed Clean Water Coalition and Queens Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), chairman of the Committee on Environmental Protection, sent speakers.

Queens residents receive their water from reservoirs east and west of the Hudson River in upstate New York. To ensure this water is pure and meets federal EPA standards, New York City has to be involved with these upstate communities. Two ways it can do so are to build filtration plants to take out impurities and make sure the upstate runoff water, which flows into the reservoirs, is clean.

The preservationists and Gennaro want to preserve the areas around the Croton Watershed rather than build filtration plants. It is felt that if one goes the filtration plant route there will be less incentive to protect the watersheds in the first place. Development demands upstate are putting pressure on our watersheds.

New York City buys land around the watersheds and makes agreements with townships to stop contaminants from flowing into the streams that flow into the reservoirs that supply our water.

One slide showed a parking lot in the back of a shopping center with a broken curb where water, full of gasoline, motor oil and tire particles, flowed into a nearby stream. The water looked green. Although the defect was pointed out months ago, it has not been fixed.

The problems with building a filtration plant to protect our watersheds west of the Hudson River are the costs and the need to put chemicals in the water and to store and then truck away the solid wastes removed from the water. All these stored chemicals are potential pollutants themselves.

The building of a filtration plant has taken on a life of its own. Officials have invested time and money in the plans, and construction workers see this $1.2 billion plant as a steady source of jobs; however, the comptroller has reported we are $4 billion behind in upgrading and repairing current reservoirs and water pipes that bring our water down from upstate reservoirs.

If we repaired what needs to be fixed, there would be many jobs for construction workers. And the building of the plant in Van Cortland Park would require 259 trees to be cut down.

Preservationists propose enforcing the laws for and upgrading the sewer systems upstate, continuing to buy land to prevent development and runoff pollution and repairing the new Croton Aqueduct.

They also want regulations pertaining to construction activities in the watershed to be enforced. These preservationists believe the Croton areas should carry out septic remediation plans, as is being done west of the Hudson River, and do a pilot study on chlorine dioxide as the possible second disinfectant to be required under the future regulations on disinfectant byproducts. Our ancient water distribution infrastructure should be repaired, they said

I learned that the Great Swamp in Putnam County absorbs storm water and filters out impurities, providing clean water to our reservoirs. On the negative side, the Westchester Airport may be expanded, which would add to the amount of pollutants entering the watershed due to the airport’s proximity to the Croton facility. If we build a filtration plant, it will cost $200 million a year to maintain it. It would be better to spend the money on prevention.

The Croton Watershed Clean Water Coalition has reported that in 1993 a malfunction in Milwaukee’s filtration plant caused 104 deaths and made more than 400,000 people ill. We would store 470,000 gallons of chemicals in a plant if we were to build one.

I hope common sense prevails and the New York City Council votes the correct way on several bills it will be considering.

Good and Bad News of the Week

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein wants to mainstream special education students. This is supposed to save money and improve students’ learning. The problem is that many special education students need individualized help, but there are plans to cut money for education and to eliminate school aides, who give individual help. It sounds contradictory.

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