A ONE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLAR MISTAKE
by George Baum
There is a proposal forging ahead in Putnam County, that would result in the construction of the largest engineering project in Putnam since New York City established a reservoir system here. The County Executive has proposed, the Legislature has approved and the DEP of New York City has conditionally agreed to fund, the construction of a sewer pipeline to transport treated waste water from 38 waste water treatment plants in Putnam to the Hudson River. The water which presently flows into streams, lakes, and subsurface areas would be diverted out of the County. This project ("Diversion"), is expected to protect the quality of the water in the Croton Watershed that is used as a drinking water source by residents of New York City, Putnam, and northern Westchester.
The problem with this proposal is that, as recognized by all of the parties, only about a third of the nutrient flow into the watershed comes from these waste water treatment plants. The remainder comes from runoff and leachate from the many septic systems within the watershed. Even an apparently satisfactorily performing septic system may not adequately remove nitrogen and phosphorous compounds from the water that exits the leach fields and it is these compounds that promote plant and algal growth in our lakes and reservoirs. Thus after spending $100,000,000 on this project, NYC will still need to put further pressure on the County and its residents to take additional steps to protect the watershed and the residents of the lake communities would still be facing increasing deterioration of the quality of their lakes.
The Diversion pipeline would handle some 5.4 million gallons per day with about half coming from the existing waste water treatment plants. The remainder would accommodate future hookups from unbuilt and unplanned waste water treatment plants in the lake communities. It is totally unreasonable to believe that these communities could afford the cost of such facilities. Who would then use the excess capacity? There is also great concern over the loss of ground water if extensive sewer districts were established and the treated water was transported out of the area.
The conventional septic system that is used by nearly all residents in the County has been unchanged in design for nearly 100 years. New technologies are now available. These systems further treat the outflow from the existing septic tank and then discharge a much higher quality of water into the existing leach fields. A seminar featuring some of the manufacturers of these onsite small flow systems was recently sponsored by the Putnam County Environmental Management Council. I will respond to e-mail requests for further information on such systems. These systems do require electricity and annual maintenance contracts. There are many installations in lake communities in upstate New York
If New York City would partially subsidize the installation of such systems for homes in the water shed, the benefits would be many fold. The work would go to local contractors, our homeowners would get an efficient, effective septic treatment system, our lakes would get a reduced nutrient loading from the surrounding homes, and the flow into the watershed would be of much higher quality. There would still be sufficient funds left to upgrade the few municipal waste water treatment plants that account for half of the nutrient flow into the watershed. This combination of upgrading both the home and municipal systems would make a real improvement in the quality of the Croton Watershed.
If you think this alternative to the Diversion project should be investigated for feasibility and get serious consideration, it is essential that you contact your County legislative representative and the Putnam County Executive Mr. Robert Bondi at 40 Gleneida Ave, Carmel, NY 10512.
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Wednesday, January 5, 2005