Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Water Water Everywhere

The major theme of the Revitalizing Hudson Riverfronts workshop, presented by Scenic Hudson last Friday at Columbia-Greene Community College, was climate change--"the issue of our age"--and what it means for the Hudson Valley. Some effects of climate change are already being noticed. Fran Dunwell, of the NYS DEC Hudson River Estuary Program, reported that the Hudson River is now six inches higher than it was forty years ago. Sacha Spector, Director of Conservation Science at Scenic Hudson, told the audience that climate models indicate that, in coming years, the Hudson Valley is going to be "more droughty," although, with more water in the atmosphere as a consequence of global warming, it will, like the rest of the world, be subject to more turbulent weather and major rain events. 

Drought is already upon us. At a time of year when it's typical to worry about snowmelt, water-saturated soil, and springtime flooding, we are experiencing abnormally dry conditions, and things are worse farther to the east and south, as shown on this regional drought monitor map.

Back in the 1960s, there was a drought in the Northeast, which reached its peak of severity in the summer of 1965. Motivated by that drought, the City of Hudson made a very forward-thinking purchase: 339 acres of land off Newman Road in the Town of Greenport, in the quarry and over an aquifer, which gave the City an emergency secondary water supply. At the time, people may have feared that drought would be an immediate and chronic problem for the Northeast, but that turned out not to be the case. So, in 2002, when access to fresh water was already an issue in other parts of the country (for example, the question of whether or not the water in the Great Lakes, which represents 18 percent of the Earth's available surface fresh water, should be shared with states where water is not so plentiful had been a topic of public debate since 1985), Mayor Rick Scalera came up with a scheme for paying back the $11 million the City had borrowed to build the new water treatment plant: leasing the 339 acres that surrounded the City's secondary water supply to A. Colarusso & Son so they could mine it. 

Although the resolution passed by the Common Council on September 20, 2002, stated that "the City of Hudson has previously retained the services of two separate consultants who have issued opinions that the aforesaid property can be leased with conditions to insure that the city's emergency water supply is adequately protected," and Colarusso had, according to reports, magnanimously promised that if their activities ruined the City's secondary water supply they would provide another one, many Hudsonians were skeptical . . . and worried.

The resolution passed in 2002 gave Colarusso the "revocable option" to lease the property, and in 2006, some members of the Common Council, those who believed that water was going to be the 21st century's oil, tried to revoke it. During that period, Alderman Robert Donahue (Fifth Ward) declared on several occasions that the emergency water supply had never been used in forty years and therefore would never be needed. The efforts of those aldermen worried about putting the emergency water supply at risk never achieved the support of the Council majority, primarily because the City had already started collecting $200,000 a year from Colarusso and would have to refund it, as well as find another way to pay off the debt on the water treatment plant. 

Last November, Colarusso decided to exercise its option to lease the land and begin mining it. On December 20, 2011, a resolution authorizing the mayor--Mayor Scalera--to execute the necessary documents came before the Common Council for a vote. The only alderman voting against it was Ellen Thurston (Third Ward). The minutes from that meeting indicate that, before he cast his aye vote, "Doc" Donahue made this statement: "What we have here is a financial windfall for our state, taxpayers and residents, the final piece of the rich legacy that Mayor Scalera is giving to the City.”

Time will tell--perhaps even sooner than the water-obsessed aldermen imagined in 2006--how rich this piece of Scalera's legacy really is.  

Photo of the Hudson waterfront after Hurricane Irene by Sarah Sterling.

1 comment:

  1. Don Moore, Common Council president, submitted this comment:

    With regard to the question of the back-up water supply in the contract and lease to which you refer, that agreement quite specifically protects the City’s supply, and the language of that section was made even tighter, at my suggestion, last year before the lease was executed as a result of concern for the long term viability of the back-up water supply should the land be sold.

    The lease originally said:

    Section 12: Unless and until Lessee (Colarusso) locates and obtains for Lessor (Hudson) a back-up water supply that Lessor accepts by resolution as a substitute for the back-up water supply on Parcel ‘B’, or Lessor otherwise discontinues use of the back-up water supply on Parcel ‘B’, the following restrictions shall apply:
    (a) Lessee shall take no action that would impair the ability of Lessor to use Parcel ‘B’ as a back-up water supply,
    (b) If Lessee causes the water in the reservoir to be deemed by the New York State Department of Health to be no longer potable, Lessee shall provide a substitute back-up water supply to Lessor. As required by law, the New York State Department of Health shall determine the potability of the water, and the Lessor may determine the acceptability of the supply in terms of whether its quantity and cost of maintenance is adequate to meet the City’s needs as a substitute water supply for the reservoir. Lessor agrees to accept a substitute back-up water supply that is equal or superior in quality or quantity to the existing back-up water supply, in its sole discretion.

    Added to that Section 12 in December 2011 is the sentence:

    “The terms of this paragraph 12 shall survive the expiration of this lease agreement and shall continue so long as both the Lessor is using Parcel B as its back-up water supply and so long ass the Lessee shall have a mining permit on Parcel ‘A’.”