U.S. Water News Online
YORKTOWN, N.Y. -- A recent ban on washing cars, watering lawns, and filling swimming pools -- after a winter and spring of record storms -- has a lot of people here shaking their heads.
Some have even resorted to pursuing these now clandestine activities after dark, to avoid being caught and fined.
About 60,000 people in Yorktown and in the neighboring town of Cortlandt are now living under emergency water conservation rules that are as stringent as those employed in a severe drought, even though the New York City reservoirs that supply this and other small upstate communities are full to overflowing.
The reason, say local officials, is that the same record winter storms and floods that filled the reservoirs also stirred and muddied some of them to an unprecedented extent, so that the reservoir's silty water now violates state health standards.
Since 1932, Cortlandt has drawn all its water from the Catskill Aqueduct, a buried pipeline that cuts across Westchester as it carries water from the mountains west of the Hudson to New York City.
Yorktown relies on the aqueduct for the extra two million gallons a day it needs in warm, thirsty months to supplement the four million gallons a day it is able to pump from the nearby Amawalk Reservoir.
But ever since January floods ravaged the Catskills and ripped out stream beds, the reservoirs feeding the aqueduct, particularly the Ashokan south of Woodstock, have been choked with clay and soil. New York City water officials say they cannot recall a similar situation in the 70 years since the Catskill system was added to the city water supply.
The silt has not affected water quality in New York City, according to John Bennett, a spokesman for the city's Department of Environmental Protection, mainly because by the time the water reaches the city, almost all the silt has settled. And tests have shown no rise in levels of bacteria or other waterborne microbes, he said.
In Yorktown and Cortlandt, however, the muddy waters have created confusion and frustration. "The city told us in January that the water would be back to normal by March," said Ed Noonan, Yorktown's water superintendent. "In March, they said it would be better by May. Now they're saying July."
"People just don't get it," said Noonan as he scanned a wall of graphs charting the wavering volume of water in the town's hilltop tanks. "Normally every night the lines should go like this," he said, sweeping a hand upward to illustrate how the reservoirs were recharged once people stopped flushing and washing and went to sleep.
Instead of rising, the lines on the graphs were flat or falling. The only explanation, he said, was that residents were doing in the dark of night things for which they could be fined $500 if caught. All it will take is a few days of unrestricted water use to drain the tanks dry, Noonan said.
In the adjacent town of Cortlandt, there is plenty of water for the moment, but that could change, said Jan Wines, the water superintendent for Cortlandt's supplier, the Montrose Improvement District. "It's been a tough sell getting people to conserve," he said.
Water is temporarily coming from the emergency supply, the water system of Peekskill, which has its own reservoir. "So far, Peekskill has been able to hold us up," said Wines. "But if this lasts much longer, that'll put a strain on them, too."
In two or three years, both towns and several other Westchester communities will complete a new filtration plant that will allow them to draw water from the aqueduct regardless of silt or other problems.
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