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Ashokan Reservoir clouds Hudson Valley waters

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Ulster County residents living along the lower Esopus Creek which drains the south-central Catskills have been noticing a steady decrease in the clarity of its water. It’s because of dirty liquid being released from the upstream Ashokan Reservoir, courtesy of a New York City authority.

The Department of Environmental Conversation held a public comment session recently on the turbidity of Ashokan water.

“Every time that the creek overflows its banks, it ends up in the living rooms of the constituents within the Town of Ulster, destroying their property, destroying their homes, making it a mess,” said James Quigley, Supervisor of the Town of Ulster.

Credit Jenna Flanagan/WMHT
James Quigley, Supervisor of the Town of Ulster speaking at the DEC public comments hearing.

The turbid water is thick and clouded with silt and clay. Residents compare its appearance to chocolate milk. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection occasionally releases turbid water from the Ashokan Reservoir into the Esopus Creek after heavy rainfalls to maintain or lower its capacity and keep the reservoir water quality acceptable.

The releases became a serious problem for Ulster County residents in 2010 and 2011, Saugerties resident Candace Balmer explains.

“Following the huge superstorms when there was such a big problem and the city initiated the massive release of highly turbid waters at high levels for long durations that’s really what caused so many of the problems,” Balmer said.

Residents say the water releases lasted as long as four months.

So, the Department of Environmental Conservation is collecting public comments for its environmental impact statement concerning how the New York City DEP releases opaque, cloudy water.

It was a small but no less passionate crowd that showed up at the Student Lounge of Ulster County Community College.                                                                                              

Quigley says while they cannot control the condition of the water released from the Ashokan, the New York DEP can control how much of it gets released.

“There appears to a casual observer to be more than sufficient reservoir capacity even at a reduced level to provide water for the city of New York,” he said.

The Department of Environmental Conservation will accept written comments up to July 8.

The draft Environmental Impact Statement will be used to reassess the reservoir management methods.

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