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Peekskill Taking Steps to Ensure Future Drinking Water Safety

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By Michael Gold

Peekskill is working to secure the future safety of its drinking water supply using a state program for municipalities to protect the sources of their water, including brooks, creeks and rivers.

One of the big reasons for the initiative is climate change, which is making water pollution worse in Westchester and around the state and country. More frequent storms that dump much higher amounts of rainwater over short periods of time are flooding streams and other water sources, potentially bringing more sediment, pavement run-off, oil from vehicles, pesticides, fertilizers and debris right up to filtration plants that are charged with making sure we have clean, drinkable water.

“Climate change affects water quality, the amount of erosion, turbidity (how cloudy the water is with sediment and possible pollutants) and flooding,” said Dan Shapley, co-director of the science and patrol program at Riverkeeper, a nonprofit organization dedicated to keeping the Hudson River, its tributaries and watershed clean and healthy for people and animals alike.

“More rain is falling harder and faster, in bigger pulses,” Shapley explained. “We’ll see more and more of these storms with climate change. This is a broad issue that is going to affect all the counties in the state. We’re going to be ever more challenged to keep water safe for drinking, recreation and wildlife. The drinking water source protection program will map our supplies, so we understand what the risks of potential contamination are, what are the threats and develop strategies to reduce and eliminate those threats.”

Peekskill is utilizing the Drinking Water Source Protection Program (DWSP2), created by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Department of Health. The program was developed to help the state’s towns and cities protect their drinking water sources, by helping them work with neighboring municipalities upstream of their watersheds and water sources.

Riverkeeper, with funding from the Westchester Community Foundation, worked with Ossining and Peekskill to get them into the state program.

Between 70 and 80 percent of the Peekskill Hollow Brook, which carries Peekskill’s water to the city’s water filtration plant, sits in the Town of Putnam Valley, said David Rambo, the water and sewer superintendent in Peekskill. The Peekskill watershed originates in the Town of Kent and is comprised of areas of Yorktown, Shrub Oak, Mohegan Lake and Putnam Valley.

“If you ask Peekskill residents where their drinking water comes from, many probably wouldn’t know,” Shapley said. “Or they’ll say it comes from the Wicopee Reservoir in the Hudson Highlands. In reality, the water flows from there into the Peekskill Hollow Brook and it then streams into the Peekskill drinking water treatment plant.”

Ossining is also working to protect its future drinking water supplies at the Indian Brook Reservoir, Shapley said, but Peekskill’s task is more difficult because more municipalities and more development are located within the Peekskill watershed.

Peekskill officials have been meeting with officials from Putnam Valley, Cortlandt and Yorktown since last December to take an inventory of the challenges to Peekskill’s water supply and agree on strategies to reduce stormwater runoff and other pollutants and ensure the quality of its drinking water far into the future.

“We’re grateful to Putnam Valley and Yorktown for their cooperation with us. It’s good to have partners at the municipal level,” Rambo stated.

Possible projects that officials might agree to implement include building green infrastructure, such as creating bioswales, areas of vegetation that allow water to pool and slowly seep into the ground, filter into the soil and slow the flow of water into the brook; reducing the use and impact of rock salt in a way that keeps drivers safe but also reduces salt run-off; maintaining a natural filter around Peekskill Hollow Brook by purchasing nearby land to soak up water; and planting trees and shrubs to restore stream buffers, which are vegetated areas on both banks of a stream or river, which slows run-off, filters pollution and prevents soil erosion.

The impact on water supplies of rock salt sprinkled on roadways during winter snowstorms can be diminished by immersing the salt in water first, making it into a brine solution. The brine can be spread on the road, cutting the concentration of salt in the run-off, which reduces salt waste and pollution and costs less.

Peekskill is also working with Sustainable Westchester on improving its own water infrastructure, said Matt Alexander, city manager for Peekskill, to maintain the current safety levels of residents’ drinking water.

On a related note, Peekskill is working with Sustainable Westchester on a solar array project, to build a 250-kilowatt hour installation on the roof of its water treatment facility.

Pleasantville resident Michael Gold has had articles published in the New York Daily News, the Albany Times Union, The Virginian-Pilot, The Palm Beach Post and The Hardy Society Journal, a British literary journal.

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