Over the last eight years, the Rockland Water Coalition has fought off a proposal by Suez NY (formerly United Water NY) for an energy intensive desalination plant sited on the Hudson River. Rockland residents overwhelmingly oppose the plan, which would increase greenhouse gas emissions as well as draw Rockland County’s drinking water 3.5 miles downstream from Indian Point. The critical decision in December of 2015 is likely to decide whether this project is abandoned or whether it stays on the horizon.
If the PSC issues a clear decision to abandon desalination, that will help clear the decks to put the collective energy and resources of the community into building a water policy based on safer, less expensive water sources and conservation options.
If, however, the Commission issues a compromise decision in December, the company is likely to continue to look to revive the hugely expensive, environmentally damaging water supply project, which will be most financially advantageous for its shareholders.
Either way, support and community involvement will be needed as we continue to build the sustainable alternatives to ensure that desalination, the most energy intensive water supply source of all, is off the table for good.
A Year of High Drama
This last year has been a year of incredible victories and sharp setbacks. Last November, 2014, the desalination project was halted in a groundbreaking decision by the PSC. In a major victory for citizens and elected officials who opposed the plan, the PSC ordered the company to put desalination “on the shelf”, though the Commission also directed the company to “not abandon” it completely either. At the same time, the Commission ordered Suez/United Water to work collaboratively with the County Water Task Force (Task Force) to create a Conservation Plan. Community members, environmentalists and appointed members of the Task Force worked with the company in a spirit of remarkable optimism through the winter and into early spring.
A nationally renowned conservation expert, Amy Vickers, was hired for the first phase of the conservation plan. Her report, issued last June, was highly critical of Suez, citing inconsistent data and a record of maintenance so slow that she described it as “at a snail’s pace”. Suez responded to the report by immediately withdrawing from the Task Force.
In June of 2015 Suez reported that if supply and demand goals are achieved, “supply and demand will remain in balance for the next ten years”, thus obviating the need for a desalination project. Despite this statement, barely three months later, Suez came back with an aggressive push to put desal back on the table, pressuring to move ahead on permitting. Hundreds of Rockland residents and elected officials commented against this in writing during the public comment period.
Since that time, the company has set up an alternative conservation planning process and committee, even while the official County Task Force continues to work.
After Eight Years: Moving Ahead
After eight long years of opposition to this project, environmentalists are hoping for a clear decision that allows the community and the company to put the contentious debates behind us and move ahead to create the safer, cheaper, less environmentally harmful policies that will actually save energy, instead of driving up energy use.
No matter what the decision turns out to be, we have a challenging but exciting project ahead of us: building a water policy that could become a model for the state and the region, a policy that puts conservation and efficiency before big new supply projects.
However the December decision goes, we will need the community to help in the work of the Task Force, creating the policies that will reduce our water use, such as requiring more water efficient construction and limiting lawn watering; protect our water quality; and ensure that we are moving forward with the least harmful and least expensive new water supply sources. We will need to build consensus for policies like water conservation rates and lawn watering schedules and to spread ideas such as gardening with more native plants and planting less thirsty lawns.
We also need to ask for the community to donate to help support the work of the coalition, so that we can continue to hire experts as needed to support the work of the task force and respond to new developments as they unfold. Please take a minute to make your donation today, on the home page of this website.
Either way the decision goes, it is likely that the company will be cleared to apply for a major rate increase in early 2016, which is expected to include over $40 million reimbursement for Suez’s extraordinary planning costs for desalination.
As we write this in early December, the final decision is not yet known. You can check back on this website in late December to find out what happened!