Dispelling Myths: Desalination is the Future


I wrote desalination-or-obscuration-in-north-rockland, a blog about the United Water Suez desalination proposal almost 36 months ago. I have republished it here.

Desalination or Obscuration in North Rockland

When I saw the first mentions of a desalination plant as a solution to the P.S.C. Rate Case United Water had recently settled  it peaked my curiosity. The Town o f Haverstraw, always quick to latch onto a solid ratable, has positioned itself as the siting community. United Water Suez has made a commitment to the project, and are going through the permitting process post haste, and are still running behind their settlement schedule.

The public as always were late to catch on. But catch on they have. And they have support of many local people and organizations. I hope cool heads prevail.  I say this simply because the arguments made against the project would only hurt business and the taxpaying public. Water is going to get very expensive very soon, and the only real alternative is Ambrey Pond. Do people need a Dam above their heads? The real story is the future of Ambrey Pond if Suez United Water no longer needs the land. Can the PSC demand Amrey be built if we oppose desalination successfully? Will it be sold and developed? Will school taxes increase another 20%? Will the Town of Stony Point and Suez United Water see eye to eye? Click HERE to see how Suez United has worked with other counties to protect and preserve the environment in and around their watersheds.

So, whats the rush?

The rush is in the numbers. According to historical data, water use in Rockland County is rising. They look at both peak day demand (the highest water use day of the year) and average water use (average daily use for a year). Although conservation methods and other factors apply here, the numbers are increasing every year. There is a link HERE to see Rockland County’s projected water demands.

We got plenty of water, right?

It’s a fact of life, the water supply doesn’t recognize County or State borders, and strictly speaking, United Water doesn’t either. Even though we could argue all day about that, good municipal planning requires cold hard facts. Water demand in Rockland County is rising every year. Even if we kept all of Rockland County’s capacity we will eventually run out, especially during drought years.

What many conservationist’s don’t acknowledge is that as the supply dwindles, the cost skyrockets. As the cost skyrockets, our local economy must pay the difference. There is no doubt in my mind that the price we pay today for water is well below its true ‘value’, and in the next 20 years or so, we will see the price of water worldwide skyrocket. The problems the world faces with the price of oil today, and it’s associated disruptions, pale in comparison with the looming Water Crisis. The fact is the world’s supply of fresh water is running out. Already one person in five has no access to safe drinking water. In my mind, if United Water can stick their little intake into the Hudson right here in North Rockland, the residents at least won’t be buying water from some where up in Canada, and paying $$millions for the price of poor municipal planning.

Ambrey Pond Alternative: Why would we want 2 billion gallons of water above our heads?

Good question. Although the use of dams in this country for drinking water, irrigation, power production and such are de rigueur, who in their right mind would propose putting a dam up in the middle of a suburban New York neighborhood? Does a State where they regulate the kind of grease you can cook your french fries in seem like the kind of State that would permit such a project when there is a viable alternative that doesn’t include a worst case failure plan? My gut reaction is that it wouldn’t happen in a thousand years. Click HERE for NY DEC Dam Safety in New York, and click HERE to read about the state of those same dams.

Whats the environmental impact?

If you ask me, it’s minimal. United Water is required, by law, to prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Statement. They have done this and you can see it HERE. They have also produced some drawings and conceptual work and have a WEBSITE to inform the public about the plant. So as long as United Suez or the Town of Haverstraw don’t do anything stupid to piss off the DEC, the plan looks somewhat bulletproof. People can scream at the top of their lungs about the amount of energy needed to desalinate river water, the impact the water intakes have on the river, and the long term cost of disposing post process waste from the plant. Either way, I find it hard to compare these factors against a major water supply disruption, especially with the projected demand in Rockland increasing every year.

The future of our groundwater.

Our ground water is safe, clean, and available today and it will be in the future. There is no doubt that United Water will continue to use the wells and lakes it uses today, and will not replace these sources at a much higher cost, just because they build this plant. That is why all of North Rockland should demand that United Water Suez leave the Ambrey’s Pond property as open space, for the simple reason it is our watershed, and we expect it to remain our main source of supply.

The desalination concept is one of replenishment and added capacity to existing supplies. Like having a ‘rainy day on demand’. To think they will close all the low cost wells just to start producing river water makes no real sense since desalination costs far more than pumping and filtration. So as long as there is a cheaper alternatives, and the P.S.C. continues to regulate prices to reflect this, I would expect the public would be protected. The real time bomb here is that the PSC won’t have a chance if the water company needs to import the water. The cost of transporting the water is the wild card and the market will set that price, and we know how volatile those markets tend to be.

If you ask me, I’d rather have a safe steady supply of water using a combination of wells, lakes, and the Hudson River to make us water independent before demand surpasses supply, and water costs $2.00 a gallon. I can’t afford a $20 shower.

A Ride around Ambrey’s Pond