An agreement that saves New York City billions of dollars should direct more attention to communities downstream from the city’s massive water supply reservoirs and less on spending for buying land, the congressman who represents part of the region said Thursday.
The state Health Department is accepting public comment on revisions to the Filtration Avoidance Determination, a pact that allows the city to avoid spending billions of dollars building a water filtration plant and the millions it would cost to operate each year.
Draft revisions released last month earmark $50 million for the city to purchase as much as 250,000 acres of land to protect it from development that could potentially foul the water.
Although the plan includes work on long-neglected streams within the watershed, it offers nothing for downstream communities along the Schoharie Creek once it passes over the Gilboa Dam.
U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, who established a Watershed Advisory Group consisting of officials and agencies in and around the watershed, said the plan falls short by ignoring water levels in the reservoirs.
The level of water in the 17.6 billion-gallon Schoharie Reservoir is a key factor in flooding. Drawing down the reservoir in anticipation of heavy rains would supply a space able to hold back a meaningful amount of water and give residents downstream more time to head for high ground.
“It’s unacceptable to us that reservoirs are kept at 100 percent of capacity, particularly during very dangerous periods of the year like July, August and September, when we’re most susceptible to hurricanes and other severe weather patterns,” Gibson said.
Attenuating the effects of extreme weather, he said, should take priority over the practice of buying land to protect the water and avoid watershed contamination.
“There should be less investment into land acquisition and more investment into stream mitigation,” Gibson said.
Although the filtration of the city’s water isn’t directly related to flooding, he said the voice of communities in and around the watershed, represented in his Watershed Advisory Group, can be effective in voicing needed changes.
“The bottom line is we’re focused on achieving our goals. To the extent we all speak with one voice, we think we’re going to increase our chances of getting justice and fairness in our communities,” Gibson said.
People can learn more about the Filtration Avoidance Determination online at www.health.ny.gov.
Written comments on the draft revised 2007 FAD may be sent by mail to NYSDOH, Attention: Pamela Young, Empire State Plaza, Corning Tower Room 1110, Albany, NY 12237; or electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org.