Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Water, Water Everywhere . . .

There's an interesting and significant convergence of issues in Hudson just now. There is more accumulated snow on the ground than there has been in about two decades, there is a grant application being considered to upgrade the Power Avenue waste water pump station, and the Legal Committee is contemplating changes in the bulk and area regulations which could increase the percentage of impervious coverage allowed in the city. These things are all connected and point up our need for a Conservation Advisory Commission.

The snow is evidence that we are experiencing climate change, which is making major weather events more frequent and more severe. These events more often than not--for us anyway--involve water, lots and lots of water, sometimes more water than our combined sewer system can handle. When our combined sewer system is overwhelmed by water flowing into the storm drains, from a hard rain or a major thaw, it can become more than even our new waste water treatment plant can handle, and untreated sewage gets spilled into the Hudson River. That is known as CSO--combined sewer overflow.

Tonight, the Common Council will vote on whether or not to approve an application for state assistance for a Water Quality Improvement Project. What some on the Common Council may focus on is how much this project will cost the City of Hudson. The total cost of the project is $243,000, and the City's share is $60,750, which will come from the sewer fund fund balance. The project will upgrade the generator and the pump at the Power Avenue pump station and is promised to eliminate CSO events on the south side of town. It sounds good, but there are objections to it.

One objection is that, although the proposed pump station upgrades may eliminate CSOs on the south side of the city, it will not eliminate the CSO problem altogether. It just moves it farther down the line. When the sewer system is overwhelmed with water entering from the storm drains, an overflow can still happen at the waste water treatment plant. A further objection is that it is not clear if and how this project fits into the City's declared goal of separating the storm drains and the sanitary sewer. 

Then there is the whole issue of altering the bulk and area regulations to allow a greater percentage of a lot to be covered by a building. Such changes create greater amounts of impervious coverage and more storm water that does not get absorbed into the ground but ends up in the storm drains and in the sewer system.

As an aside about impervious coverage, there is the question of who pays attention to this. When the houses at Union and First streets were being considered by the Zoning Board of Appeals back in 2011, setbacks were an issue, but lot coverage didn't seem to be, although it was quite clear the four houses proposed would cover more of the lot than the 30 percent permitted in the bulk and area regulations.

I recall asking at a ZBA meeting about storm water run off and the impact of creating so much impervious coverage on a lot that had been vacant for a very long time--according to Gossips' research, for a hundred years. I was told that storm water run off and hydrology were not matters that the ZBA concerned itself with. They were the purview of the Planning Commission, but the Planning Commission would not be reviewing the project because (1) the lot had been subdivided before the law was passed, in 2008, requiring Planning Commission review and approval of subdivision, and (2) site plan approval was not required for single-family homes. Fortunately, the dense lot coverage originally proposed is not yet a reality. The two houses planned for First Street have not yet been built.

All the things this post frets about would be addressed in a Long Term Control Plan for our combined sewer problems. According to information received, Hudson submitted a Long Term Control Plan (LTCP) to the Department of Environmental Conservation ten years ago, in December 2003. DEC responded by pointing out that the plan submitted lacked a public participation component. What has happened to the plan since then is not entirely clear, but it seems the whole issue of dealing with storm water and CSOs needs to be revisited, and the perfect body to do this would be a Conservation Advisory Council. 

It has been eighteen months since the idea of a CAC was presented to the Common Council, and it seems the time has come to move the legislation that would create it forward. A CAC could serve as a liaison among city officials, SPDES (State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) agencies, and the public, could provide research and expertise to inform the LTCP and amendments to bulk and area regulations, and could advise the Planning Board in considerations of storm water run off and hydrology, as well as other issues having to do with the environment and conservation.


  1. Really terrific post, Gossips. All of the basics are covered for anyone who wishes to understand a very complicated, local environmental issue.

    I recommend that the Common Council read this post, so that each of them can appreciate how misinformed or even ignorant they are on the issues.

    Told beforehand that no one is presently able to access the city's Long Term Control Plan - including the aldermen themselves - that didn't stop them from their foolhardy vote tonight in favor of a specific "control alternative" from the LTCP.

    Because they can't access the plan they can't possibly understand it, and yet they passed the measure anyway! What do you call that?!

    And by the way, residents were predictably silent. Is it rude to ask why?

  2. When we first purchased cabin number 11 at North Dock I wondered, why would anybody paint only the top half of a building?

    The first time the Hudson flooded up to that level, it was clear that the (flood) high water line is where the remaining paint was, four feet up the wall.

    It's been that high two many times in the last 20 years but it's clear it must have reached that level many times before.

    In those years, there have been seasons when the floor never got wet and others when one could canoe through one door and out of the other.

    Point being, there are sinusoidal cycles of (hyperbolic) high and low water that the river goes through and whenever we get flood tides, the water that reaches the base of the treatment pant and has no place to go.

    Because the water level is the same on the south side of front, pumping it over the hill to the north side is useless. Many a time have geysers of storm water (mixed with sewage) gushed up from the sewers, including just after the city spent an extra five million, tearing up front street to connect to the north side.

    The money would have been better spent by placing a second plant, say on the Von Ritter property, to split the flow in two. Then again, it's more about filling the general fund, rather than clean water.

  3. Good comments Joe.

    I've got several sewer maps of the area around L&B and the Von Ritter property.

    On one of these maps, in the hand of Michael Sassy, our previous DPW Superintendent, an arrow points to the terminus of what the legend describes as a sanitary sewer, along with the note:

    "Need to verify outfall."

    When I asked the state if raw sewage was being released somewhere in the area indicated by the arrow, you can't believe how quickly they clammed up. I discovered the limit of the DEC's interest in "local knowledge," to which bureaucrats pay lip service when there's no perceived threat to their lunch hour.

    When I mentioned it to Hank Von Ritter he went ballistic, though I was only verifying what he already believed to be true.

    According to the DEC, the city's position is that it still has not verified that outfall. I suggested trying a dye test behind L&B, but by then I was eating into the poor official's lunchtime.