Water Industry News

United Water proposes desalination plant along the Hudson River

By Laura Incalcaterra
The Journal News
(Original Publication: January 17, 2007)

Choosing desalination
United Water New York has opted to build a desalination plant on the Hudson River, rather than build and operate a reservoir at Ambrey Pond in Stony Point.

Cost to build: - Ambrey reservoir: $97 million
- Desalination: $79 million

Why desalination? - Ambrey: major civil works project; securing needed permits for new reservoir and dam difficult; future expansion limited and costly; significant environmental effects on wetlands, fisheries, wildlife. - Desalination: overall, cheaper to build and operate; Hudson provides reliable, expandable supply; contaminants can be removed; sale of Ambrey property can offset costs.
Source: United Water New York

WEST NYACK - United Water New York's Rockland customers could be drinking Hudson River water by 2015.

The company submitted plans to the state Public Service Commission yesterday to build a $79 million desalination plant that would use water from the Hudson.

The plant would address Rockland's long-term water supply needs, eventually providing as much as 7.5 million gallons of water per day, United Water representatives said.

"New advances in water-treatment technology make desalination a safe and efficient choice to provide high-quality drinking water to our customers in Rockland County," said Michael Pointing, vice president and general manager of United Water New York.

But the proposed project raised concerns yesterday.

Dorice Madronero, president of the Rockland County Conservation Association, said pollutants in the river posed serious threats to the public's health. She said it was wrong to make ratepayers foot the bill for remediating the contamination.

"At what point do polluters stop getting a free ride?" she asked.

Madronero said providing an unending source of water was not the best way to help create a sustainable community.

"It really is not conducive to stable development," she said.

John Lipscomb, patrol boat captain for the Riverkeeper organization, said the amount United Water wanted to withdraw would likely not have a severe impact because of the river's overall volume.

Lipscomb said the plant would use a significant amount of energy at a time when reliance on fossil fuels needed to be reduced.

Using the river water, Lipscomb said, would also send a signal - the wrong signal - that tapping into the Hudson was a better solution than conserving and working to create a sustainable community.

"If we've gotten to the point where we don't have enough water in Rockland County, then we need to stop development in Rockland," Lipscomb said. "It sets a precedent that if we use the Hudson River for our purposes, they'll be no end to how much we'll want to draw from it. At some point, there will be an impact on the ecosystem."

United Water had for some four decades proposed to eventually build a reservoir at Ambrey Pond in Stony Point.

The company said yesterday that a cost analysis showed desalination to be a cheaper option. There were also several environmental concerns regarding Ambrey, including the presence of timber rattlesnakes, a threatened species in New York, and two species of protected turtles on the 300-acre parcel, which abuts Harriman State Park.

Pointing said it would cost about $18 million more, or about $97 million, to build Ambrey versus the desalination plant. The company anticipates selling the Ambrey property and using the revenue to offset the cost of constructing the desalination plant, Pointing said. The value of the property is estimated to be at least $15 million, the company said.

United Water wants to secure a 10-acre parcel and said it would concentrate its search in northern Rockland since the area already contained other industrial sites.

The supervisors of the towns of Haverstraw and Stony Point yesterday welcomed the opportunity to host such a plant.

Haverstraw Supervisor Howard Phillips said it might be possible to create a special economic zone to help the company save money, which would in turn save ratepayers money.

United Water had agreed to propose a long-term supply solution during its recent rate-increase case. Several parties to the case, including Rockland County, the town of Ramapo and the Rockland County Fire Chiefs' Association, insisted that such plans be made to address supply and system-integrity issues.

County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef said the concept of a desalination plant needed further technological and scientific study. He said it was vital to determine how safe the river water could be made for drinking purposes.

"I swim in the Hudson River, but I don't drink it," Vanderhoef said. "We understand this way may be cheaper, but is it the better use of water long term?"

Among the contaminants known to be in the Hudson are polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and the radioactive isotopes tritium and strontium 90. All three substances increase the risk of developing cancer, Environmental Protection Agency says.

General Electric legally dumped the PCBs in the river and is expected to start dredging them in 2008.

Studies are under way regarding a leak at Indian Point 2, where tritium has been found, and Indian Point 1, where strontium 90 has been detected. The plants are owned by Entergy Nuclear Northeast.

State and federal officials have said the leaks pose virtually no danger to the public or plant workers, but some residents and elected officials from the area remain concerned.

Four of 12 fish tested recently showed trace levels of strontium 90. The fish were taken from the Hudson within 30 miles of Indian Point.

Pointing said yesterday that available technology would allow United Water to treat the river water and remove PCBs, tritium, strontium 90 and a host of dissolved solids, including sodium, chloride, sulfate, calcium and magnesium.

Jim Denn, a spokesman for the PSC, confirmed the agency's receipt of the plan yesterday. He said that a review would soon commence and that PSC staff would determine if a separate legal proceeding was required or if the project could be reviewed as part of United Water's rate case.