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Reservoir water releases turn litigious

Jan 12, 2011 6:37 am
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="200" caption="New York City's Ashokan Reservoir in Ulster County, center of a new lawsuit over muddy water releases at flood times."][/caption]The Daily Freeman reports this morning, January 12, on what at first looks like an Ulster County-specific story regarding that county's having filed a notice of claim to sue New York City for discharging muddy water from the Ashokan Reservoir into the lower Esopus Creek, but which seems to us a harbinger of things to come throughout our area. While Bill Kemble reports on Ulster County Executive Mike Hein's afternoon press conference about filing notice in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of New York, citing 79 days of muddy discharges and several flood situations exacerbated by the city's actions - filed under the terms of the federal Clean Water Act - what people are watching are the repercussions for municipal water systems and water ownership issues everywhere.

Hein, visibly angry during the press conference, was joined by county legislators, environmental experts and agriculture representatives.

“New York City ... is showing a blatant disregard for the health and welfare of our residents and the lower Esopus environment,” Hein said. “They need to stop the discharges immediately and make things right. If they are unwilling to cease their actions, the county ... will use every resource at our disposal to protect natural resources, property and the economic prosperity of our community.”

New York City spokesman Farrell Sklerov said “rather than threatening legal action, everyone should work together to reach a solution” and that a meeting scheduled for Friday is intended to resolve some of the problems that led to the legal action. We do not believe we are violating any state or federal law, but we will review any legal actions when they are received,” he said. “We understand that turbidity in the lower Esopus is undesirable and could have some adverse impacts on local communities ... but today’s announcement seems to disregard the interconnected nature of the water system, which must balance water supply from various sources to provide clean water.”

Stone Ridge farmer Bruce Davenport said the damage from the turbid water in the creek is affecting recently sprouted spinach and could leave soil unusable for some types of plantings.

“In the lower Esopus valley, there’s about 2,000 acres of fresh-market produce that’s being sold,” Davenport said. “This is stuff that goes to your supermarket every day ... (from) about a half a dozen family farms that make their living on this land.”

A series of regional meetings between Ulster County towns and the New York City DEP recently resulted in the discovery that the City had been quietly flushing large amounts of water from its massive Ashokan Reservoir into the nearby Esopus Creek, which runs through much of the county's northern half.