Groundwater Quality in Palisades

There are private wells in all parts of Palisades. In mid-December some residents, including me, received a letter from the Rockland County Health Department advising homeowners with private wells of a possible Volatile Organic Contaminate (VOC) in their drinking water. The VOC identified is Tetra-chloroethene (PCE). Amy Isenberg, Rockland County Environmental Health Specialist, said the location of the contamination cannot be provided, the law only requires that homeowners be notified within a 1⁄4 mile radius of the identified contamination. This letter also provided a list of companies that will test water at a cost that varies widely and wildly. That’s it. What you do is up to you. Relying on the county to send a letter about something this important via the US mail is not ideal. I know because over the years there have been a couple times we’ve gotten a letter about possible contamination. At that point, I take a deep breath, go to ShopRite, buy gallons of water, call one of the water professionals listed on the letter and hope for the best. It’s a bad approach.

The reason residents receive a notice at all is pursuant to the 2005 Rockland County Law #389, attachment 1, which stipulates a clean water test when a property changes hands. In addition to providing a water quality report, the goal of the law is to identify and map all private wells through property transfer. According to the Orangetown Assessor’s office, there are just over 500 parcels in Palisades. In response to a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request sent to the Rockland County Health Department, 47 of these parcels have private wells. However, the number of private wells is likely higher because documentation only became mandatory in 2005 and the data, pulled from several sources, is not considered to be complete.

Annual water quality testing, at the homeowners’ expense, can identify a potential problem in a private well. Be aware though, simply because your neighbor’s results show the drinking water is safe, that may not be true for you. Lots of factors come into play, among them: the way water is sampled, the depth of a well, possible cracks in pipes that allow contaminants to seep into your line and defects at the wellhead or the seal. The county Health Department will test for E Coli and Chloroform for a small fee but this will not identify a specific VOC. It is up to homeowners with private wells to ensure the water they drink and bathe with is safe. Have I said that enough? So, OK, perhaps a lesson learned.

Safe, clean drinking water is an issue of paramount concern for Suez customers too. Given its astronomical rates, its rocky relationship with the county and let’s not forget the county and Suez are still untangling cost related to the failed proposal by Suez to desalinate water from the Hudson River for your drinking and bathing pleasure! It makes sense for Suez customers to consider a comprehensive test of their water as well. For information on the history of ongoing issues with Suez, look online at the excellent article by Kathleen Sykes in the December 2020 issue of 10964. Recently, the New York Public Service Commission approved a merger of Suez with Veolia North America which, like Suez, is a French multinational company and an entity with its own baggage. Under pressure from Rockland citizens the N.Y.P.S.C. also agreed to study whether the county should take its water system public.

Moving forward there are many solutions to improve water quality and address concerns whether you are a Suez subscriber or private well owner. The key in remediation is to know what your water quality issues are before installing a treatment system. Not all water treatment systems will work for every type of contaminant. A treatment system, installation and maintenance can be expensive, depending on what particular water quality problem you are trying to address. Contact the County Health Department with questions and then discuss options with a water treatment professional to be sure the system you want to install will work for your situation.

For all of us, it's vital to understand that everything put in the ground can potentially end up in your morning cup of coffee. On an ongoing basis, thinking responsibly about how we fertilize and what products, including pesticides, we use on our lawns and in our gardens is one of the best ways to care for the precious resource under our feet. I can do a better job that way for sure, maybe you can too. I am relieved to report that we have received a detailed water report, and it meets the standards for safe drinking water, standards that are set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) and the Rockland County Department of Health (RCDOH).

If as W.H. Auden said, “Water is the soul of the earth,” we are its exoskeleton. We can’t take it for granted. None of us can.