Thursday, April 18, 2024

To the bank

wastewater treatment plant operator

Money update, auditor’s take

Lawmakers in Albany appear close to finalizing the state’s $237 billion budget. Gov. Kathy Hochul announced an agreement last night (April 15) — even as some lawmakers said they were surprised by the news. Policy reporter Gwen Craig in her newsletter noted the agreement included reinstating annual water infrastructure spending to $500 million, after Hochul had proposed slashing the annual investment in drinking water and wastewater funding to $250 million.

That money — paired with federal dollars and the state’s new environmental bond act money — supports the massive and constant need of communities expected to serve quality drinking water and dispose of sewage effectively.

For our May/June magazine (click here to subscribe), I wrote about some of the challenges facing Adirondack communities attempting to advance these important water infrastructure projects. From small staffs to lengthy permitting to tricky economies of scale, it’s not easy. And don’t forget the special responsibility of protecting some of the state’s most critical water resources.

So is there enough money going to communities fast enough? State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in a recent report analyzing the state’s water infrastructure programs concluded it was not even close to meeting the needs.

The report found a backlog of over 1,800 projects seeking funding on two key funding programs — one for drinking water and one for wastewater.

“The total amount for projects in need of state funding dwarfs the amount available for projects in the pipeline,” according to the auditor’s report.

The report also highlighted “limited transparency” for completed projects. There is no publicly available list of projects supported under the massive pots of state money, which are administered by the Environmental Facilities Corp.

BONUS READING: Find out how preserving land can help Lake George’s water quality

Raquette River

Spring flows on the the Raquette River as it widens in the Potsdam flow on Friday, April 12. I enjoyed a nice river walk while waiting for an event. Photo by Zachary Matson.

New PFAS rules

One reason those water projects are so expensive is the intense treatment expectations required of water providers and sewer plants.

When state and federal regulatory agencies adopt new rules aimed at protecting the public’s water supply and health, it often means costly upgrades to facilities. Sometimes all new facilities are the only option.

The regulatory refinements don’t always align with the debt burden absorbed by communities. Before a community has paid off upgrades to address one treatment update, a new one is requiring more. Those projects and the accompanying debt builds until its no longer possible to go to ratepayers for another boost.

The federal EPA last week adopted the latest requirement for water utilities: monitoring and treating for PFAS. The new regulations established maximum allow contaminant levels for six types of PFAS.

Public water systems across the country have three years to complete initial monitoring for the PFAS, continuing ongoing monitoring and reporting levels of the PFAS to the public beginning in 2027.

If monitoring shows a water provider is exceeding the levels, it will have five years to implement treatment strategies to reduce the levels. Beginning in 2029, water providers will be required to report to the public any time PFAS exceed the limits and take action to reduce those levels.

Photo at top: Village of Lake George wastewater treatment plant operator Tim Shudt inside the plant’s new headworks, where wastewater first arrives and is filtered for inorganic solids. Projects like this, which has resulted in nitrate reductions at nearby monitoring sites, require extensive state funding. Photo by Zachary Matson.

This first appeared in Zach’s weekly “Water Line” newsletter. Click here to sign up.

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Zachary Matson has been an environmental reporter for the Explorer since October 2021. He is focused on the many issues impacting water and the people, plants and wildlife that rely on it in the Adirondack Park. Zach worked at daily newspapers in Missouri, Arizona and New York for nearly a decade, most recently working as the education reporter for six years at the Daily Gazette in Schenectady.


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One Response

  1. Naj Wikoff says:

    Ideally multiple towns could share one wastewater plant with wastewater in essence flowing down stream; that would help reduce the overall cost and enable smaller communities to join in, which in turn would enable them developers to build multi-unit affordable housing. That said, industries that contribute to the pollution, such as plastic manufactures, should help pay the cost through federal taxation that would used to fund the cost of mandates such as PFAS. In any case, the feds and state should assist communities as taxpayers in rural regions don’t have the resources to cover what’s being required of them already.

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