Take aways from HVRC Panel – Protecting drinking water in the Saw Kill Watershed: A regulatory and policy perspective

Monday night’s panel, Protecting drinking water in the Saw Kill Watershed: A regulatory and policy perspective, took place in the Red Hook Community Center, and in partnership with Hudson Valley Regional Council. The panel consisted of members of surrounding communities affected by water quality issues, and those from organizations such as the DEC, Riverkeeper, and Pace University Land Use Law Center. While the title of the panel focused on our own Saw Kill Watershed, the focus in the room was on hearing one another’s stories, and connecting on a regional watershed level. Our watershed is one small piece of a larger puzzle; the panel inspired learning from our neighboring watersheds as well as thinking on how to strengthen our connections.

Karen Schneller-McDonald, from the SKWC leadership team, started off the evening with a presentation on the Saw Kill as a drinking water source. The presentation covered both the pathways of water through the water cycle, and how the watershed impacts the waterway- both essential for understanding where and how issues in water quality come up. The major issues facing water quality are over consumption, waste, contamination, and development. Challenges to protecting water from these issues come from gaps in regulatory protections, lack of up to date water quality regulations, and differences in regulatory thresholds. In the Saw Kill Watershed, drinking water comes from the Saw Kill for Bard, and in groundwater (connected to the Saw Kill) for municipal and privately-owned wells. The SKWC formed, not in response to a water quality crisis, but to take a proactive stance in preventing possible future crises, build community around watershed issues, and monitor watershed health.

HVRC panel

The first panel was made up of members from the Newburgh Clean Water Project and Newburgh Conservation Advisory Council, and citizens of Hopewell Junction and Hoosick Falls. Each panelist offered stories of their experience with dealing with water contamination in their community. In Newburgh, they are currently dealing with PFO contamination in their city drinking water from a nearby U.S Department of Defense guard base, in Hopewell Junction there are ongoing effects of Hopewell Precision contaminants found in private homeowner wells, and in Hoosick Falls, it took citizens independently examining the connection between health and industry on their water supply to call attention to the EPA. In each instance, panelists spoke to how the crises pushed them to become engaged in their communities in a way they had never imagined. They shared a frustration in learning how to navigate the existing systems and regulations, as well as a drive to find creative solutions for their communities and a necessity to leave one’s comfort zone behind to best help their community.

The second panel featured representatives from the DEC HREP source water protection program, Riverkeeper, and Pace University Land Use Law Center. They spoke on resources and tools communities can use to navigate the type of water quality issues presented in the first panel. This panel made three key points for me. 1) The importance of understanding the legal framework, and roles of each level of government. Federal, State, County, and local levels are all active in water quality management, but have differing responsibilities and abilities to act. 2) A large role of different institutions is in providing education to communities. Being proactive in providing education is a good first step in creating a community response. And 3) regardless of the political level, there is a need for actionable plans. Identifying and educating about the problem should lead towards a plan to fix or prevent the problem.

In our Q&A, we discussed how this information is useful for the Saw Kill Watershed Community, but also how we can focus our attention outside of us towards our region. As Karen said in her presentation: “water doesn’t follow municipal boundaries, it follows watershed boundaries”. For me, this point was the thru line for the entire evening. It came up as we learned how municipalities are often in separate watersheds from their drinking water source, as we heard about Newburgh’s industry that uses water for products that are shipped elsewhere, how Hopewell Junction’s pollutants were carried outside of their immediate vicinity.  The panel ended with a discussion on the importance of thinking regionally to learn from and help other communities, as well as how our watersheds affect one another. I was reminded of Clearwater’s recent slogan “all our waters are connected; all our waters must be protected”.

Thank you to all the speakers for sharing your stories and your expertise. Thank you to everyone who came out to learn and engage with the community. Thank you to the Hudson Valley Regional Council for putting on this event and others like it. And, thank you to the Red Hook Community Center for providing such a wonderful space for this event.

 

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Upcoming panel on protecting our drinking water

Protecting Drinking Water in the Saw Kill Watershed: A Regulatory and Policy Perspective

Monday, September 25, 2017, 6:00 pm-8:30 pm

Red Hook Community Center, 59 Fisk St., Red Hook

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Join us for a community meeting and discussion with a panel of experts to learn more about the Saw Kill Watershed as a drinking water source. Topics include:

  • Why it’s important to protect water supplies throughout the watershed.
  • How the community can respond to water supply contamination.
  • How to use laws, policies, tools, and other resources available for protecting drinking water.

Bring your questions, concerns, and ideas! We will have plenty of time for discussion and responses to questions.

Refreshments will be provided.

This meeting is a Hudson River Regional Council event in collaboration with the Saw Kill Watershed Community.

This event is free, but registration is required. To register, please go to http://bit.ly/2gHVFzR.

Summer time is winding down

It’s been a beautiful summer out on the Saw Kill. A huge thank you to all of the volunteers who have made it out on the hot and sunny days to collect samples, or give up an afternoon to work in the lab.  Your work is hugely appreciated and much needed!
saw kill montioring summer 2

As summer time winds down, some old faces are returning. Like all star intern Chris (pictured below), who was travelling in Germany for the beginning of the summer. It’s awesome to have him back, and in between his senior project research and his job as a peer counselor at Bard, he’s been helping out in the lab and sampled the southern reach this past August run. Along with our joy at returning friends, it has been so wonderful to meet new volunteers, or new folks at our community meetings. Keep spreading the word!

saw kill monitoring summer 3

The best of this summer has been seeing the multiple generations and groups of people coming together over a common interest. We have kids coming out to help sample, students bringing their parents out to see where they volunteer their time, samplers who have been doing this work for decades, all side by side. Karen’s blog post about the EPA’s review of the Clean Water Rule, and our upcoming watershed panel, remind us how important it is for everyone to be involved and active in our watershed. And how important it is for future generations. So reach out to your congress person, come sample with us, attend a meeting, talk to your neighbor! Get active in your watershed!

saw kill monitoring site 5

New town law calls for moratorium on large scale extraction of water, soil, trees

On August 23, the Town of Red Hook passed a local law to place a 12-month moratorium on large scale extraction of certain natural resources in the Town of Red Hook. The purpose is to allow time to evaluate the impacts of these activities on water; gravel/ soil; and timber.

“A moratorium is hereby imposed from the effective date of this local law for a period of twelve (12) months on extractive operations involving (i) collection of spring waters for sale or for other than on premises use; or any water withdrawal operations for sale or for other than on premises use (ii) the use of any land for the excavation, extraction or removal of sand, gravel, clay, stone, loam, humus or topsoil for sale or exchange or for use other than on the property from which the material is extracted where the proposed project results in transport off site of more than 100 cubic yards in a 12 month period; and (iii) timber harvesting, commercial forestry or commercial logging.”

The law allows current levels of extraction to continue during the 12 month period and provides a waiver process for businesses that can prove undue hardship. Check the Town’s website for upcoming posting of official full text at http://www.redhook.org/ReviewDocs.html#Other.

The Saw Kill Watershed Community spoke up in support of this moratorium because of the following concerns:

  1. Our water is a shared resource. All of us benefit from an adequate supply of clean drinking water. Water sustains human and ecosystem health and enhances recreation, property value, and quality of life.
  2. Watersheds cycle, filter, and store water. Watershed health depends on the condition of its streams, springs, wetlands, lakes, groundwater, and land. The network of small streams and wetlands throughout the watershed collectively reduce flooding and improve water quality. Large scale activities that remove water, soil, gravel, or trees can disrupt or change the watershed systems (above and below ground) that replenish, store, purify and convey water.
  3. A high portion of forest within the watershed can lower drinking water treatment costs and improve groundwater recharge. Forest cover along streams improves water quality, bank stability and habitat; stabilizes floodplains (reducing the impact of flooding and erosion which in turn affects water quality); and moderates water temperature (e.g. protecting trout habitat).
  4. Water withdrawal affects the movement of groundwater and the water available for nearby streams, wells, and wetlands.
  5. Our water is not automatically protected by existing federal and state regulations in a way that most benefits our local community. As local demand for water supply increases, and sources of pollution (including erosion and stormwater runoff) increase, local protection is necessary to ensure a high quality supply of water for the community and for future generations.

Protecting our community’s natural resources is necessary for a sustainable local economy.

This “time out” is necessary to collect information and carefully evaluate the potential impacts of activities that affect our water, soil, and trees.

August Community Meeting Update

Last night we had a wonderful community meeting at the Historic Elmendorph Inn. Presentations focused on drinking water and public/private engagement whether through well testing or new sewer projects. If you were unable to make it, please see our meeting minutes to see what you missed.

Karen Schneller McDonald and Carolyn Klocker gave a joint presentation on connecting our drinking water to our watershed. Karen’s presentation helped ground us in water cycle basics and how land use activities affect both the supply and quality of water throughout the cycle. We discussed how increased pumping of groundwater effects stream recharge, which was a timely topic due to the Red Hook town board’s public hearing on a moratorium on large water withdrawals from town streams and aquifers. Karen was also our SKWC representative to attend the hearing and read a letter of support signed by the SKWC.

Carolyn’s presentation went further into why watershed protection is so important as it is connected to our drinking water. We discussed stream classification and regulation of privately owned wells. Unlike public wells, private wells are not regulated by the Department of Health and are therefore up to the owner of the well to test and maintain. She recommended the EPA as a good source for more information on where and how to get your well tested.

Our second presentation was from Village of Red Hook Mayor Ed Blundell, Deputy Mayor Brent Kovalchik, and Ed Vopelak (Engineer, C. T. Male) on Phase One of the Village sewer project. This is the Village’s third attempt at a sewer project. This time the project is focused primarily on the dense commercial business district of the Village. The project looks hopeful as they have secured the funding they need through grants and low interest loans. They described the “STEP system”  they will be putting in, that connects individual septic systems to a main system and waste treatment center. They stressed the importance of the system both for groundwater health and economic development.

The meeting was full of good conversation and questions between presenters, community members, representatives from different organizations such as Riverkeeper, and municipal members. We are very excited for next month’s meeting which will be a panel on protecting drinking water in the Saw Kill watershed. Save the date for Monday September 25th, and take note of the different location at Red Hook’s new Community Center.

Bard freshman get introduced to the Saw Kill

The Saw Kill runs through the communities of Milan, Red Hook, Rhinebeck and Annandale-on-Hudson. It empties in to the South Tivoli Bays after a meandering last stretch through Bard College’s campus. For many students, the Saw Kill means the waterfall, or the student run cafe. Lesser known, is that the Saw Kill is where the college takes in its drinking water, and further downstream is where their treated waste water is released. Bard’s use of the Saw Kill and close presence make the institution an important stakeholder in the watershed.

Last week, 400 plus freshman arrived on campus for orientation. As part of their orientation, we wanted students to learn more about the watershed and community they are now calling home. We tabled at events and talked to students about their drinking water, what a watershed means, and how they can get engaged in their community.

This past Sunday, we took a group of freshman on a hike a long the Saw Kill. With Sarah Mount from the DEC, Bard science faculty, and Bard upperclassmen, we talked about the Saw Kill, the ecology of the area, the Bard experience, and the larger Hudson River watershed we are connected to. At the mouth of the Saw Kill we donned waders to kick net for benthic macroinvertebrates and seine for fish. We were lucky enough to find some cool critters like the Dobson Fly Larvae and Dragonfly larvae, some Killifish, along with our favourite american eel in its elver stage.

Students were excited to be out in the Saw Kill, and interested in furthering their engagement with the Saw Kill and their new community. We are so happy to welcome the Bard class of 2021 to the watershed!

 

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Community Meeting on Wednesday, August 23rd

Please join us for our next community meeting on Wednesday, August 23, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the historic Elmendorph Inn in Red Hook.

We’ll have two really valuable presentations at this meeting. Karen Schneller McDonald and Carolyn Klocker will be talking about connecting your drinking water to the watershed. How does the watershed affect the water from your well or the local water system? And how does what you do about your drinking water affect the watershed?

They’ll be followed by Brent Kovalchik, Deputy Mayor, Village of Red Hook, who will give us an update and take comments and questions on Phase 1 of the village sewer project.

We’ll wrap up the evening with community comments and questions.

For our September community meeting, we’ll be participating in a workshop, Protecting Drinking Water in the Saw Kill Watershed: A Regulatory and Policy Perspective, in conjunction with the Hudson Valley Regional Council (HVRC). This free event will be held on Monday, September 25, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Red Hook Community Center (59 Fisk Street).

We look forward to seeing you there!