When Tropical Storm Irene tore through the Mohawk Valley two years ago, it sent floodwaters as high as 242.2 feet above sea level at the site of Glenville’s Water Treatment Plant.
This was more than 2 feet above the 100-year flood level as predicted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and just 1.3 feet shy of the 500-year flood level.
The access road to the plant, Pump House Road off of Van Buren Lane, was flooded and eroded significantly. An electronic security gate to the plant was also flooded and destroyed. Not to mention, water had reached so far up that the plant was within just a few feet of contamination.
“If there was even wave action, we could have had contamination,” said Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle. “It’s funny, everyone talks about this 100-year, 500-year flood stuff. In the past three years we’ve had three events that were deemed 100-year events. We’re in a different time now. These 100-year and 500-year levels aren’t really an accurate depiction of what may happen at any given time anymore.”
For that exact reason, town officials, civil engineers, geologists and environmental conservationists are trying to make sure that in the case of an emergency, the nearly 16,000 residents who rely on Glenville water have access to safe, clean water wells. Town officials are seeking nearly $1 million in hazard mitigation grants from FEMA that would help safeguard the town’s well field and water treatment plant.
It’s just one of several plans the town has for its well field, situated in a snake bend of the Mohawk River just west of the Route 5 intersection with Interstate 890. After the devastating floods of 2011, the town of Glenville appointed the Glenville Well-field Protection Committee to draw up a plan that would protect its well field and water treatment plant with the overall goal of protecting the town’s supply of clean drinking water from the Great Flats Aquifer.
It turns out the well field has a whole host of potential threats nearby. For starters, it’s located in a flood plain.
“Glenville’s well field faces potential degradation, or loss,” the committee wrote in a February 2013 report. “It is particularly vulnerable because it sits on the floodplain of the Mohawk River and it is situated in and adjacent to an area with potential surface and sub-surface contamination.”
There are a number of potential dangers and concerns: water could become contaminated from the extraction of gravel at an adjacent quarry; the proximity of about 140 homes and businesses without municipal sewer service; a nearby railroad with wooden rail ties preserved with chemicals; the old Barhydt Road Landfill; SI Group’s Rotterdam Junction site across the river; and an adjacent horse farm.
“A lot of these chemicals and waste and so on can seep into the ground over time and eventually, everything makes its way into the water supply,” said Koetzle.
After more than a year of study, the committee identified six principle areas of concern it would like to see addressed, ranging from flood mitigation, restarting facilities in the event of a natural disaster or contamination, to monitoring contamination in the well field and embarking on a public education campaign.
To avoid loss of service from flooding, the committee recommended that an earthen dike be installed around the water treatment plant and the two outdoor wellheads be raised above the flood plain. It would also like to see the grade of the access road to the plant raised so that vehicles have access to it in the event of flooding. In addition, the committee would want water-elevation gauges installed around the plant to serve as reference markers during flood events.
Another recommendation was to review and update the town’s existing emergency planning, procedures and protocols. This would create a guideline for workers to restart the plant faster and establish a list of critical equipment likely to be damaged and where to replace or repair it.
The committee also recommended that Glenville organize an inter-governmental group that would conduct an engineering study of the regional water supply system. The idea would be to interconnect with adjacent water systems in Rotterdam, Niskayuna and the city of Schenectady. Glenville already does this with the towns of Clifton Park and Ballston, so that in the case of an emergency or contamination event, one municipality can temporarily rely on another’s water supply. At present, the town has an emergency three-day water supply in storage tanks on Lolik Lane and Church Road.
Of particular concern to the committee was a nearby recharge area of the aquifer between the town’s well field and Route 5. The area is home to a diverse range of surface and groundwater contamination threats: leaks and spills from a gas station on Route 5, railway accidents like a recent train derailment, highway accidents that involve chemical or fuel spillage, septic system percolation, waste from a nearby horse farm, and local runoff. In addition, the Cranesville Aggregate Company operates a neighboring gravel quarry that poses a threat as open water replaces gravel that is extracted.
“To date and to the best of the committee’s knowledge, the plant has experienced no noticeable contamination from these sources but they remain an ever-present low probability threat,” the committee wrote in its report.
The committee suggested town officials take a regional approach to its water concerns. The more agencies and authorities that work together to prevent aquifer contamination, the safer water is likely to be in the event of an emergency.
Koetzle said residents have no reason to worry about the quality of their water at present. Rather, the committee was designed to take preventive steps to ensure peace of mind down the road.
“People should understand that our water is very safe and very clean,” he said. “But everybody’s got vulnerabilities. One great thing about our system is that it’s relatively young. So you look at Troy or Albany or Schenectady, and they’ve got older systems that are working on older pipes. In terms of age, our system is probably just getting ready to go to college. These are just the things we can do to make sure that going forward, we can continue to supply safe, clean water.”