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.

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