WAWARSING – A long-awaited study by the U.S. Geological Survey shows that levels in wells near the Delaware Aqueduct fell as much as 12 feet when the water level in the tunnel was decreased.
The findings, released Monday less than a week after a public hearing on a new environmental study for proposed repairs to the aqueduct held by New York City in Wawarsing, help prove what residents have said all along: that the leaking tunnel directly affects their wells. This may threaten their water supply when New York City "dewaters" the tunnel to repair leaks in 2020.
At that DEIS hearing on January 25, a major concern among residents centered on what would happen when the tunnel is dewatered.
"We all know the leak is tied into our wells," said Andrea Smith. "Once you dewater the tunnel, our wells will dry up."
Unfortunately, the city offered no solace. That impact won't be addressed until an environmental impact statement is released in 2014, according to Mark Page, managing director for the DEP study.
Meanwhile, at the Jan. 25 meeting a disgruntled group of residents angrily questioned why they have to wait another eight years, at least, before the leaking aqueduct beneath their flooded homes will be fixed.
Residents and local officials pelted representatives from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) with questions and criticism about their leaking Delaware Aqueduct. The DEP appeared at Wawarsing Town Hall to discuss the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on the first phase of its two-phase plan to fix the leaks.
Under the plan, the DEP will break ground on a bypass tunnel in 2013, and complete the new connection to the Delaware Aqueduct in 2021. Work in Wawarsing would begin in 2020 and is expected to take six to fifteen months.
The DEIS under discussion focused on the two-and-a-half mile bypass tunnel that will be built around a portion of the aqueduct that is leaking in the Roseton area of the Town of Newburgh. But it also examined the impact of two existing shafts in the town of Wawarsing: Shaft 1, near the southeastern tip of the Rondout Reservoir, and Shaft 2A at the edge of Minnewaska State Park. Shaft 1 would be used for ventilation, while Shaft 2A is for access to the tunnel itself. That shaft is where workers will enter the tunnel and make the necessary repairs, including grouting the tunnel and/or installing steel "interliners," according to Ted Dowey, design manager for the project.
Work at the two shafts will have an impact on traffic and noise, the report says. Also, the grout used in the repair could "migrate" into groundwater, and excess water may be discharged into local streams, the DEIS adds.
A second DEIS will be released in 2014 to explore the impact of the repairs itself in more detail — which is what annoyed those most in attendance.
Julianne Lennon questioned the transparency of the DEP. She said it had been recently revealed that the agency knew about leaks in the tunnel since 1958, and she wondered why residents now have to wait yet another eight years before they see relief.
Supervisor Scott Carlsen summed it up: "We don't see activity until 2020. We're sitting here in 2012, talking about a report two years from now, and we're looking at work that won't begin until eight years from now."
City officials countered by saying the preliminary work needs to be done first to guarantee that New York City maintains its supply of water during the repairs.
"For the six- to fifteen-month shutdown period, we need as much water for our New York City residents as possible," said Sean McAndrew, project director for the Water for the Future program. "If the city could get enough water [without building the bypass tunnel], we'd shut it down and do your repairs."
Laura Smith, another resident affected by the leaks, said she was disappointed that, in a report that is several inches thick, the DEP addresses Wawarsing's issues in only 20 pages.
"You have to understand the anger in this room," Smith said.
Carlsen made reference to a $4 million test that the DEP is working on to see if patching the cracks with lime would help until full repairs are made.
"Give me the $4 million and I could provide relief to Wawarsing," he told the DEP, adding that relief could come in the form of better drainage, culverts, and lowering the level of the pond at Lippman Park.
"It (the tunnel) is going to eventually crack somewhere else," said Donna Spano. "Why are you investing all this time and money?"
Former Supervisor Leonard Distel said he believed the tunnel is deteriorating and deficient, and that an entirely new tunnel should be built under Wawarsing instead of just repairing the existing one. He called for a "Plan C" that would include a new bypass tunnel for Wawarsing.
Resident Richard Eisinger said that once the work is completed in 2021, there is no guarantee that cracks won't reappear in 2023.
"Here we sit, in a courtroom no less, and I find myself sentenced to another eight or ten years," he said.
Farrell Sklerov, DEP spokesman, released a statement about the survey on Wednesday.
"The USGS report on the effects of the Delaware Aqueduct leak deserves a thorough review before we draw any immediate conclusions," it read. "DEP has already acknowledged that the tunnel is leaking in two locations, and we are in the process of repairing those leaks. When it comes to compensation for local homeowners, the city has committed $3.7 million to help residents who choose to relocate as well as $642,000 in sump pumps and UV units. The key question now is not whether there are leaks but what is the impact on specific homeowners. Upon fully analyzing the report, we will assess whether any additional funding is appropriate."
Comments are welcomed until Feb. 17 on the preliminary proposal to divert Delaware Aqueduct water prior to fixing the tunnel under Wawarsing. Questions and comments on the NYC DEP's "Water for the Future" program may be directed to: Jennifer Farmwald, Project Manager, Office of Water Supply Infrastructure and Watershed Assessment. Bureau of Environmental Planning and Analysis, New York City Department of Environmental Protection, 59-17 Junction Boulevard, 11th Floor, Flushing, New York 11373.
Fax comments to 718-595-4479. For e-mail submissions, use firstname.lastname@example.org.