Thursday, September 15, 2011

Safe to drink?

"I got a notice in the mail two days after the boil order was lifted," said a friend to me yesterday, rolling her eyes.  She doesn't spend time on Facebook and had heard about the lifting through friends.

I got emailed the lift notice by the village clerk, and then shared it on Facebook, posted it here, and told everyone I met about it.  I'm glad that the village took the extra step of sending out an email, particularly since some water users didn't know about the health alert for two days.  Not everyone can be reached via email, and I'm at a loss to suggest a way to get the word out about a health crisis that is as comprehensive as the mail, but not as hazardously slow, although I've suggested some low-cost options like the email alert that could at least increase the message saturation.

The boil order was a pain, but it sure made me think about how we use water.  Every time I turned on the tap, or poured from a plastic jug, I pondered how fragile our dependence on water is.  We use it to drink, cook, wash, and flush away our excrement.  Some people say that after the oil wars, the fights will be over water.  It seems abundant here, particularly during a brutal flood season, but this boil order makes me realize that clean, safe water is not guaranteed and should never be taken for granted.

The lack of comments on my posts about our water and sewer problems makes me wonder what this blog's small base of loyal readers thinks about water safety and water usage in New Paltz.  Am I the only person who isn't in government who is concerned about water?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

2011 Democratic and WFP Primary Results


Democratic Primary

Hector Rodriguez 212
Tom Cotton 77
Write in 1

Working Families Primary

Hector Rodriguez 8
Tom Cotton 0
Write in 1

Water ban lifted

Boil Water Notice Lifted 9/13/11

Village and Town of New Paltz Public Water Supply

The Village of New Paltz in conjunction with the Ulster County Health Department are advising that the municipal water supply is once again, meeting and exceeding the standards set forth in the sanitary codes of New York State.

Therefore, the boil water notice is lifted and consumers of the Village, Town water districts and State University at New Paltz may again consume/ drink the water.

Additionally the Village Board extends their gratitude to all consumers inconvenienced during this event.

Water Boil Alert Over

New Paltzians no longer need to boil their water. The alert/restriction is over.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Slow boil

Some village residents may not have known about the boil-water order until today, two days after it was enacted.  The notice which came in the mail was postmarked yesterday, at New Paltz, so that's probably the day that it actually got to the post office.

The order is precautionary only - as of yesterday, no tests by the Board of Health have turned up any problems - but I think we need a new way to get the word out than gossip, Facebook, and the mail.

The time it takes to print out the mailing labels and put them on notices probably took up all day Thursday, which is why it took so long to get them into the mail.  I've been knocking on doors anyway, so I have been speaking to a lot of people about this issue.  Some of the people I spoke to yesterday evening had only found out a few hours earlier, so Facebook and the like weren't serving some segments of the community well.

The notice was also on local access cable, the village web site, and probably posted in a number of other places that don't reach everybody, but represent a good-faith attempt to get the word out about this issue.

There's been talk about a better way.  SUNY uses mass emails and texts to alert its community, and there's also the option of robocalls to reach all village residents (or water users in this case) in time of crisis.

But, these systems are not free, and our village (like every other level of government) has to balance the need for a solid emergency response with the resources to pay for them.  I have some suggestions that are, or could be, low-cost or free.

  1. Phone chain.  It's an old-fashioned idea that could be very effective in this case.  Concerned residents sign up, and village employees call the top person on each list (the number of which would be governed by the number of people participating) to give them the message.  With a phone chain, you leave a message if you don't get the person, but you keep calling down the list until you do reach someone.  The people who get the word this way will tell their friends, post online, and so forth because that's what people do anyway.
  2. Leverage SUNY by asking them to expand their alert system to include New Paltz residents.  It's a successful system that is presumably already paid for, so if the college decided to charge anyway it should be a nominal cost that is much less than inventing our own wheel, so to speak.
  3. Police signs.  The New Paltz Police has one or more electronic signs (complete with radar detectors!) that can be rolled into high-visibility locations and programmed with custom messages. Put them in strategic spots with the boil order notice to inform drivers and others.
These infrastructure issues seem to be cropping up more and more, so let's find innovative ways to keep the public informed for a minimal cost.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Announcing: FLOOD AID for New Paltz Farmers, Families, and First Responders

Photo credit: Vince Looft & Rick Rauch

Announcing: FLOOD AID for New Paltz Farmers, Families, and First Responders

September 9, 2011

Theresa Fall 845.401.4499
kt Tobin 845.206.8853

Sunday, October 2nd, 4pm-9pm @ Water Street Market
Rain date: Sunday, October 9th
$20 suggested donation
On August 24, 2011, the Village of New Paltz passed a resolution declaring the first week of October the inaugural "New Paltz Local Food Week". Less than a week later, Hurricane Irene hit our region. As a result, this first year's focus will be on helping the people in our community most impacted by the flooding. The kick off event on Sunday, October 2nd will be a potluck fundraiser. Local bands will be performing: The Love Taps, Ratboy, Seth Davis, SnowBear, The Sweet Clementines, & The Bubba Band. Local chefs will be preparing local food, there will be raffles contributed by local businesses, and sign ups for volunteer opportunities.

Sunday, October 16th, 12pm-6pm @ Hasbrouck Park, rain or shine
There will be two types of tickets sold: Lawn & VIP Tent This all day benefit concert will raise money for the people in our community hit hardest by Hurricane Irene flooding. This big musical event on Sunday, October 16th will include both local bands and musicians from afar - plugged in and acoustic. There will be live auctions of items and gift certificates from local businesses. All proceeds will go to the farmers, families, and first responders in New Paltz who were most impacted by the floods.

Both events will be streamed live on the Internet via webcast. Donated items and gift certificates for the raffle and live auction can be dropped off at The Mudd Puddle, The Antique Barn, or Mixture.

For general information about New Paltz FLOOD AID, email or check for updates on Facebook, search "FLOOD Aid for New Paltz Farmers, Families, and First Responders". If you are a New Paltz family or farm in need, please call Judy Ness at 845-332-8432. For information about the 10/2 Kick Off event, contact Theresa Fall at Water Street Market, 845-401-4499; and for info about the 10/16 Benefit Concert call Judy Ness at 845-332-8432.

What turbid water means

I'm trying to wrap my mind around the boil water order and other issues with water in New Paltz, and I'm sure I'm not the only confused person in the community.  I contacted the Ulster County Health Department and spoke with Shelly to get some answers.

Both of our water systems - the water coming out of the tap and the stuff going down the toilet - can have problems during what we used to call "hundred year floods."  They are different problems, caused by the same thing - too much water.

The boil order is because of the massive amount of water feeding into the reservoir system that the village taps into.  The water gets stirred up (that's your "turbidity"), and because of the volume there's no way for the water treatment plant to filter the stuff back out.  The stuff which is stirred up could be just about anything one might find in a body of water . . . silt, sand, fish poop, critters too small for the eye to see . . . hence the precautionary order to boil our water.

Flooding also makes it impossible for the sewer plant to clean up all the water before it goes into the Wallkill.  That's the source of the consent order you may have heard the village is under.  Our system backs up far too easily, coming out of manholes in its raw and smelly state and getting right into the Wallkill.  It's a more serious problem, but since no one is drinking Wallkill river water, most members of the public aren't clamoring for an immediate solution.

I was completely unclear about how the two are related, but that doesn't minimize how serious the problems are.  Frankly, the village board needs our help in finding ways to solve our infrastructure problems, with the sewer system being tops on the list.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sewage plant alert - boil your water, New Paltz!

Public Notice:

Village and Town of New Paltz Public Water Supply
Due to extended periods of heavy rain the Village of New Paltz is issuing a notice to all Village and Town public water supply users. Water for human consumption must be boiled for a minimum of three minutes to ensure it is safe to drink until further notice.
 You will be notified when the boil water notice is lifted.

For further information, please contact the Ulster County Health Department at (845) 340-3010. For current update, call the Village of New Paltz Water Treatment Plant at (845) 255-2637. The treatment plant number is for update status only for an emergency call the New Paltz Police Department at (845) 255-1323. 


I spoke with Bleu Terwilliger, Superintendent of Public Works, who was quick to point out, "You ain't gonna die."  He characterized the boil order as "precautionary" because of the "increased turbidity" due to the amount of water coming through the treatment plant, but said that the plant is functional.

The Village Clerk's office is sending out a media release, a mailing, and delivering notices to affected businesses today.  I checked three businesses before the notices were delivered; two had heard unconfirmed rumors of the order.  

The owner of one pizzaria asked, "If this is a problem now, why wasn't it after Irene when the flooding was worse?"  He hasn't been willing to sell fountain soda since the tropical storm out of concerns for the water quality.

River of Poop?

New Paltz definitely has sewer system problems, and I don't think people realize how serious they are.  Our main treatment plant shut down completely during Irene, and lots and lots of Paltzian poop doesn't get processed on its way to the river when that happens.  Something similar happened on the Deerfield River in Massachusetts, "resulting in a continuing discharge of untreated wastewater" downstream.  I'm not a pro, but untreated wastewater sounds a lot like turds to me.

Under condition of anonymity I learned that the fire department used to pump out the plant directly into the Wallkill, but they no longer support the practice.  The DPW handles that now, by doing things like opening up the sewer main on the bottom of Water Street and letting it run into the storm drain.  I've seen the spot they're talking about, but as a layman I can't be sure what I'm looking at:

The fines levied against the village, I'm told, are less than the apparently incalculable cost of actually repairing and upgrading the sewer system.  I say incalculable because everyone agrees it is more than the village can afford, but not one is willing to hazard a guess as to the actual price tag.

This is a crappy situation, and I don't think most people realize that I mean that literally.  I don't think the village government is negligent, just unable to make the upgrades needed to act.  What's harder to say is whether people are willfully ignorant of what happens when they flush their toilets, or if better communication would help.

So keep boiling your water, and if you swim in the Wallkill, try not to swallow.

A view from the table

My second Republican caucus I got to sit at the table - and what a view it was!  Politics never gets boring in New Paltz.  I went in believing that my remarks as a candidate would be the most memorable part of the night to me, but the place really heated up, and it wasn't because the room was packed.

Although outnumbered by the Democrats in the room, the Republicans were mostly hesitant not to vote for one of their own.  Randall Leverette and Ray Lunati got the nod for Town Council over Jean Gallucci and Kevin Barry, both former Republicans who switched registration to Democrat because that's how non-thinking voters in this town usually vote.

The nomination of Peter Cordovano for supervisor came as a surprise to many, although more than one person told me that they believed it was orchestrated some time ago.  I thought Peter looked genuinely surprised, but the theory was that his nomination was made to protect Toni Hokanson.  Peter would win because Republicans prefer GOP candidates, and then after he declined the committee to fill vacancies would appoint Toni to the line.

I don't buy it.  Why?  Because if Peter is that convincing an actor (he really seemed stunned), he would not have waffled when he was asked if running and serving would have an impact on his law practice.  That waffling was honest, and I'm sure it cost him at least the one vote he fell short.  If this had been rehearsed, he would have acted shocked, then recover, and speak with confidence when he accepted instead of saying, "I think I'll do it."

It may well be that Peter would have decided running on short notice was foolhardy, and that the committee (of which he was a member, as well as chairman of the caucus, before his nomination) would have selected Toni.  Maybe Diane Lucchesi even had that in mind, although she said she nominated him out of a desire for a Republican candidate for the job.  But I don't believe he was in on it.

Politics?  Sure.  Conspiracy?  Bah!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New Paltz Republican Caucus Results 2011

New Paltz Republican Caucus Results -unofficial

Contested races:

Town Supervisor
Democrat Susan Zimet 28
Republican Peter Cordavano 27
Democrat Toni Hokanson 14

(personally, I thought in the spirit of democracy they should have done a two-way run off)

Town Board
Winners: Republicans Randall Leverette & Ray Lunati
Losers - Democrats Kevin Barry & Jean Galluci