AT ISSUE: We need clear policy and |procedures on area water operation
The water emergency facing the Mohawk Valley should never have reached the critical stage that threatened this area's drinking supply, and the near-crisis is indicative of failed leadership at all levels concerning one of this region's most valuable assets.
Area representatives in Albany must demand an immediate, thorough state investigation of the operation and establish clear procedures to make absolutely certain this never happens again.
There are many inconsistencies here, but the key concern is that Hinckley Reservoir dropped to within 3 feet of the point at which drinking water for the Mohawk Valley Water Authority's 130,000 customers might have been disrupted. The reason given for that was a misunderstanding between the New York State Canal Corp. and the water authority.
State officials thought the reservoir could drop another 23 feet before the drinking supply was threatened, but because water authority pipes were blocked at the bottom of the reservoir, the margin was really only 3 feet, the state said.
Adding to the confusion was that Canal Corporation officials say they didn't know those lower pipes had been blocked and thought they could draw more water from the reservoir to raise the level of the Erie Canal.
The MVWA sealed off the lowest intake pipes during a renovation project in the 1980s, and on Friday, Patrick Becher, executive director of the Mohawk Valley Water Authority, said the canal corporation knew that.
Becher said the MVWA has access to the amount of water being drawn from the reservoir for the canal through the New York Power Authority. He said the authority releases water at the direction of the Canal Corp., based on an operating diagram that was established by a contract in 1921. Becher said the current problem arose in August when the Canal Corporation drew more water than the diagram indicated.
Another concern is that when Hinckley reaches a certain level, the Canal Corporation is supposed to turn to other sources. It did that late last Wednesday when it began drawing from Lake Delta in Rome, but the agency didn't bother to tell anybody, including Mohawk Valley or Herkimer County officials. That's not acceptable.
Clearly there's a huge lack of communication here - at all levels. That must be addressed by state investigators, who need to help establish clear procedures for all those who deal with the Mohawk Valley's water supply.
While drinking water is certainly a key concern here, this problem goes far beyond that. For years, we've touted our abundant water supply as part of our economic development package. Most recently, we've used that asset as a major selling point to lure a chip fab plant here.
We need to learn a valuable lesson from this mess and get it straightened out now because without a reliable water supply, we'll be hard-pressed to sell our community to developers in the future. We don't need a bureaucratic blame game. We need water.