Coalition Seeks Re-evaluation After Hurricane Damaged Desal Pilot Plant

Environmental groups ask governor to have plans for United Water’s proposed desalination facility re-evaluated following storm damage to pilot plant


In a letter sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state and Rockland County officials on Tuesday, the Rockland Water Coalition cited Hurricane Sandy damage to the water treatment pilot plant in Haverstraw as reason to re-evaluate the desalination project. The letter sent by the Rockland Water Coalition and signed by 28 member groups, NYPIRG being the most recent, stated the October storm “dislodged intake pipes and mangled equipment used for United Water’s pilot plant.”

United Water’s application to build a desalination plant on the Hudson River in West Haverstraw is pending before the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The proposed plant would process water from the Hudson River for use as drinking water. 

Other impacts of the storm near the plant’s Haverstraw Bay location were raw sewage flooding the area near the proposed water supply intake and impassable access roads. In late December, coalition members took photos that depict the damage described in the letter. They show pipes swept from their original location, equipment broken, nearby homes boarded up.  The pilot plant on Carol Ave was in operation from December 2010 through June 2012 when testing was completed.

United Water spokeswoman Deb Rizzi said the plant experienced “minor damage to the intake structure.” She noted that it was constructed as a temporary facility designed to be removed once testing ended and that dismantling it is under discussion. 

Rizzi said planning for the proposed treatment plant takes extreme weather and river conditions into account.

“The permanent facility will be designed to withstand severe weather conditions,” said Rizzi. “Plans call for pumps which are designed to be submerged under water and will not be impacted by surges. The treatment plant will be located away from the river at an elevation way above any hazard zone.” 

Coalition spokesman George Potanovic Jr. described the storm as “a ‘game changer’ for many aspects of life in our area - how and what we construct along the water front.”

The coalition asked the plans for the plant be re-evaluated when FEMA completes revision of its hazard maps, which could result in an increase of projected water levels for 500-year storms.  It requested the state DEC hold an issues conference to address climate concerns and mandate a supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) to re-evaluate the plant’s proposal based on “the best available scientific information on climate change.” In October, the Rockland County Legislature asked the DEC to require the issues conference and adjudicatory hearing. 

Rizzi pointed out the pilot plant was online during 2011’s major storms.

“We have excellent data to prove how well the treatment process works during severe storm conditions,” she said. “In 2011, water quality samples taken at the pilot during Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee clearly demonstrated that the purified water met or surpassed all drinking water quality standards. The purification process, which includes standard treatment and reverse osmosis, worked flawlessly despite turbulent conditions in the river during those storms.” 

“The status of our request to the DEC for an issues conference has not been answered by the DEC,” said Potanovic on Wednesday. “I have been recently been informed (on Monday) that the DEC is still reviewing DEIS issues with United Water and we expect that review to continue for the next 6-8 weeks. At that time, the DEC will reach its SEQRA determination or decide if an issues conference and adjudicatory hearing are needed.”

Tom Nimick January 11, 2013 at 04:43 AM
The spokesperson said how the plant functioned well despite turbulant water in previous storms, but he ignored the fact that sewage treatment upriver and in the estuary was badly damaged in the storm and that regular flows of raw and partially treated sewage were in the water this time. In a previous statement, this company has said that they would shutdown when there was sewage in the water, but in this instance the shutdown would have been for weeks. Also, when a main at the reservoir broke during the storm there was a comment about the need for alternative supply, but note that the lack of electricity and the problem with sewage means that the desalinization plant would have been useless as an alternative supply. A far better option would be another reservoir. It might be about the same cost, but far more reliable as a source. The desalinization plant is a boondoggle to earn money for Suez's investors - it is not a public service. I think that the other options were not studied accurately precisely to create the "need" for this option. The representations by this company are misleading - I can smell propaganda and self-interest - it stinks like the sewage in the river.
Issy January 11, 2013 at 11:22 AM
A new reservoir is not a practical solution. The environmental impact is huge, clearing acres of vital woodland and the disposal of millions of tonnes of debris and at a cost exceed the desalination plant. A new reservoir would also be subject to the affects of droughts and climate change as it would still be drawing water from within Rockland County which would make it less reliable. A new reservoir would not negate the electrical problem and shutting down the desalination plant for a few days or even weeks would have no affect on our water supply.as production at Lake Deforest and the wells could be temporarily increased to offset the loss. The advantages desalination has is that it is not subject to drought as it draws water from outside Rockland, it is expandable to meet future water needs and has less of an environmental impact. You are however correct, as a capital improvement project the desalination plant would increase profits for UW, but a reservoir more so, as the investment is greater.


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