Water was the topic of discussion at the Conservation Advisory Council last Tuesday night--protecting the source of Hudson's water supply and preparing ourselves for the expected sea-level rise that is a consequence of climate change.
The meeting began with a presentation by freshwater scientists from the Eastern New York Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. The subject was the watershed that is the source of Hudson's water. They were reporting their preliminary analysis of Hudson's water supply and wanted to know if the CAC was interested in having them do a "deeper dive" into the topic--fleshing out a risk and sustainability analysis of our water supply.
CAC member Michael O'Hara said he was interested in identifying the potential sources of pollution to the water supply. Phosphorous had been mentioned in the presentation as a source of pollution, and farming is a source of phosphorous. O'Hara suggested that this could dovetail with Assemblymember Didi Barrett's work in encouraging environmentally friendly farming practices.
CAC member Nick Zachos indicated that he would like to learn more about Hudson's secondary water supply. It had been indicated in the presentation that the our secondary water supply contained only a million gallons of water, and since the city uses a million gallons of water a day, "you could suck it up in a day." O'Hara, however, described the water supply as "not a very deep bowl" that was connected to a much larger aquifer. The implication was that when water was extracted from the "bowl," it was refilled from the larger aquifer.
Jonathan Lerner, CAC chair, asked if The Nature Conservancy would "sketch out the scope" of the further analysis they might do, to be reviewed and discussed at the CAC's next meeting in July.
Next to be discussed was a subject that is proving to be a controversial one: projected sea-level rise. The discussion began with Lerner asking the members of the CAC if they accepted the Stevens Institute of Technology model as a reference point for sea-level rise projections. This apparently was the recommendation made in a technical memo from Randall + West, the consultants working on the city's Open Space and Natural Resources Inventory.
Holly Gardner was the only CAC member to voice reservations about the model, saying she didn't agree with it completely and suggesting "it will impact funding if we adopt the most extreme projections." It became clear later in the discussion that the funding she was concerned about was that for restoring the South Bay wetlands, which according to the worst-case scenario, would be completely underwater by 2100.
Zachos pointed out that the CAC was accepting a whole spectrum of possibilities, from low to high--what O'Hara later described as "not one line but a band." CAC member Dale Schafer suggested that going with the more extreme projections might help the city get more funding. Gardner disagreed. O'Hara maintained that New York State will "take into account its own document, ClimAID, and will not be influenced by what we use." (It seems the worst-case scenario projections of ClimAID are similar to those of the Stevens Institute model.) O'Hara concluded, "If we would be in alignment with the state document, that's the way to go."
Zachos told his colleagues that he had talked with people from Scenic Hudson, Riverkeeper, and the Hudson River Estuary Program and reported that "they are all comfortable with the ClimAID numbers." O'Hara offered the opinion, "I'm not concerned that we will over-prepare."
Lerner then brought up the petition signed by fourteen property owners on Cross Street, Tanners Lane, and Mill Street and submitted to the CAC and the Common Council in May by Timothy O'Connor. Lerner said of the petition, "it expresses people's perception of the implications of the decision about the projections." O'Hara pointed out that there were "fifteen different actions the City can take regarding FEMA that would assist residents [affected by sea-level rise]." Zachos commented, "I don't see how the people who signed it fully understood what was happening. I don't think we need to take it super-seriously."
At this point O'Connor, who had initiated the petition, spoke from the audience. After positing that the projections for 2100 being considered by the CAC "assume we will have done nothing to reduce carbon use" and alluding to "potential fanatical resolutions," he asserted that "the point of the petition was to get the CAC to consider the people in the affected houses." He then read a four-page in statement which alternatively refuted the model of sea-level rise being considered by the CAC and castigated the CAC for being "contemptuous of others" and having "issues with sea-level rise which depart from rational inquiry." After reading the statement, O'Connor told the CAC, "You didn't talk to the public. You're fascists!"
When Lerner asked if the CAC could accept the projections by consensus or if there needed to be a vote, Zachos commented that is was hard to consider the objections raised "when it's all mixed up with name calling." In the end, a vote was taken. Five of the seven members of the CAC--Lerner, Zachos, O'Hara, Schafer, and Carol Smilie, who was not present but had given her proxy--voted to accept the sea-level rise projections; Gardner voted no; and Andrea Girolamo abstained. Later she explained her abstention by saying she didn't think the process had been "open enough."
Although the arguments about sea-level rise projections seem at times to take on the quality of medieval arguments about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, the conversation about how Hudson responds to sea-level rise is not over.
COPYRIGHT 2017 CAROLE OSTERINK