WJWW supplies water to its member municipalities (the Village of Mamaroneck, the Town of Mamaroneck and the Town/Village of Harrison) and to portions of the cities of Rye and New Rochelle, serving 59,629 consumers through 14,682 service connections. WJWW also provides water on a wholesale basis to the Village of Larchmont and Veolia (formerly Suez Water Westchester), which sells water to the City of Rye, Village of Rye Brook and Village of Port Chester. In all, WJWW provides drinking water to up to 100,000 residents and other consumers in Westchester County.
WJWW’s water supply comes from Rye Lake and New York City aqueducts. Rye Lake is an arm of the Kensico Reservoir, which gets its water from New York City’s aqueduct system. The water supplied by WJWW’s system originates as surface water in the upstate Catskill and Delaware watersheds of NYC’s water system. It is acquired from NYC through two connections: at Shaft 22 of the Delaware Aqueduct in Yonkers, where WJWW draws treated water, and at Rye Lake in the eastern portion of the Kensico Reservoir, where another connection draws raw, untreated water.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has cited WJWW for violation of the Maximum Contaminant Level of 0.060 parts per million (ppm) for haloacetic acids (HAA5) under the Stage 2 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule. The Stage 2 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule provides for increased public health protection against the potential risks for cancer associated with long-term exposure to high levels of disinfection by-products, including HAA5.
HAA5 refer to the five haloacetic acids most commonly found in drinking water. HAA5 are a common by-product of the water disinfection process, as they form when chlorine reacts with naturally occurring organic matter in untreated surface water. Chlorine is the most commonly used disinfectant among public water suppliers and is used by WJWW. Drinking water is disinfected by public water suppliers to kill bacteria and viruses that could cause serious illnesses. For this reason, disinfection of drinking water by chlorination is beneficial to public health. Therefore, it is necessary to filter water to reduce the organic matter before chlorination to control the amount of HAA5.
Water samples are taken and tested quarterly in accordance with the New York State Sanitary Code. The samples are averaged over four quarters and then that average is subject to the Maximum Contaminant Level.
Long-term exposure to high levels of HAA5 has been linked to an increased risk for cancer. The presence of HAA5 at the concentrations that had been detected in WJWW’s water system does not constitute an immediate health hazard.
Quarterly water samples at eight sampling sites located throughout the WJWW water system were last taken for haloacetic acids on 1/27/2022, 4/26/2022, 7/26/2022 and 10/28/2022. This resulted in current Local Running Annual Averages (LRAA) for haloacetic acid concentrations of 0.038, 0.046, 0.049, 0.036, 0.046, 0.037, 0.028, and 0.042 parts per million (ppm) at the eight sampling sites. The Maximum Contaminant Level for HAA5 LRAA specified by the Stage 2 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule is 0.060 ppm.
WJWW is under a New York State Court order to provide filtration for its raw water source at Rye Lake to comply with the surface water treatment requirements. WJWW also is under a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrative Order to provide filtration to control levels of HAA5 found in the drinking water by removing organic matter naturally found in Rye Lake. WJWW has a plan in place to build a Water Filtration Plant for its Rye Lake water source to comply with the U.S. EPA’s water treatment rules to address potential public health risks. The plant is expected to be completed by 2027. This plant will not only provide a current solution, but will ensure WJWW’s water supply is well-positioned to meet future demands.
Yes, WJWW sought to build a Water Filtration Plant when the need for one was identified in the early 1990s. Then, in 2004 when the goal could not be accomplished to the satisfaction of New York State, WJWW was ordered by the Court to construct a plant. Following the issuance of the Court’s order, WJWW implemented short-term water-quality protection measures for the temporary protection of its consumers. Simultaneously, WJWW also conducted an exhaustive evaluation of various long-term alternatives to filtration, which involved abandonment of its Rye Lake source in favor of a pipeline connection to a distant filtration-compliant water supply source.
When construction of a Water Filtration Plant was deemed the best option and in the best interest of the Westchester County consumers served by its water supply, WJWW purchased land in the Town of Harrison on which to build. It also took steps to comply with disinfection treatment requirements, including the use of new and modified water tanks. WJWW completed the water filtration project design in a timely manner and received approvals from the New York State Department of Health. Shovels hit the ground in 2006, but litigation and permitting issues blocked the project, for which the Town/Village of Harrison Planning Board was the Lead Agency.
Based on the Court Order, WJWW proceeded with design and obtained the necessary approvals from the New York State Department of Health for a plant in the original location in Harrison. Local approvals were then secured from the Town/Village of Harrison Planning Board, with both parties believing the project could proceed with no further environmental review under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) since the filtration plant was mandated by the Court. Site preparation at the original project location began on August 29, 2006, but all construction was halted on September 8, 2006, when, faced with challenge by local parties, the Planning Board rescinded its original approvals and retracted its “negative declaration” determination under SEQRA. The Planning Board then undertook the role of Lead Agency under SEQRA, made a “positive determination” and required preparation of a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). WJWW completed its obligations as the applicant for full compliance with the SEQRA process with the issuance to the Planning Board of a final EIS in July 2008. The final EIS was never formally adopted by the Planning Board. Without completion of the SEQRA review process no further action could be taken to complete the filtration plant.
After WJWW completed the final EIS with no movement toward being able to resume the project, WJWW looked to alternatives as a possible way to meet the Court’s order. There was significant interest among the Town/Village of Harrison Planning Board and other project stakeholders in a Westchester County–lead regional water treatment and conveyance alternative. These options and other alternatives were further investigated and evaluated by WJWW over a significant length of time. Ultimately, none of the alternatives were feasible based on significant cost and increased impacts on the environment.
Without the adoption of the final Environmental Impact Statement by the Town/Village of Harrison Planning Board (as the Lead Agency), WJWW was unable to proceed to acquire the permits and approvals needed.
Several factors. First, a federal mandate was issued in 2019. The construction of a filtration plant is now mandated by both New York State and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. WJWW is facing state fines accruing at $13,750 a day and has thus far accrued a total of $65 million, and risks federal fines of an additional $35,000 per day for noncompliance.
Second, it’s a different project, at a different location, using a different type of treatment technology. The new site is an ideal location for the Water Filtration Plant, as it is closer to the Rye Lake water supply and existing WJWW infrastructure, and Harrison’s zoning specifically permits this type of use and facility. The initial site was nearby, but in a residential zone; the site of the current proposed plant is on approximately 13 acres of land at the Westchester County Airport that is zoned for nonresidential use.
The current proposed site will be acquired from the County of Westchester. WJWW owns a separate, approximate 13-acre land parcel nearby that is adjacent to the airport. WJWW is working with the county toward a purchase/sale transaction between the county and WJWW involving an equal exchange of the two parcels.
WJWW has completed a project feasibility study and a detailed project design is underway. In addition, WJWW commenced a New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) review process with circulation of a Notice of Intent to serve as the Lead Agency on the SEQRA review of the project. A team of qualified experts has been retained and is conducting the necessary environmental assessments in furtherance of WJWW’s SEQRA obligations. The Board of Trustees of WJWW has adopted a Final Scope and WJWW intends to complete a full Environmental Impact Statement, which will include analysis of all items in the Scope.
Technically it isn’t forgiveness. However, a settlement could be negotiated to reduce the fines since construction of the filtration plant at the property adjacent to the airport will comply with the original court order and bring WJWW into compliance with the surface water treatment rules. The expectation is that costs incurred for the filtration plant capital project directed at addressing the underlying compliance issues, which has generated the fines, will largely be accepted in lieu of fines.
The fines, if imposed, would ultimately have to be paid by consumers through their water rates. The rates paid by consumers for water are the only source of funding available to pay the fines. WJWW has no independent ability to raise funds, as it isn’t a traditional corporation or a Water Authority.
A portion of the Water Filtration Plant will be underground, not visible to the public, while the above-ground portion will be designed to be consistent with the character of the Purchase Street neighborhoods. The plant will be located behind an existing buffer of natural trees and vegetation and will be enhanced by landscaping and architectural elements. The site is adjacent to an active area at Westchester County Airport, which comprises commercial, business and private aviation services.
Careful consideration was made to strategically landscape the site to minimize the visual impacts of the Water Filtration Plant. Siting of the building would be such that mature trees are expected to screen the full vertical profile of the structure, including long distance views of the site. The building will be further screened by existing mature trees and a dense woodland understory, and proposed landscaping, which includes both deciduous and evergreen species.
The exterior of the building will feature granite, stone veneer and stone pier accents that match the stone walls that run along Purchase Street. Neutral or muted building colors (cadet grey and almond suede siding) were chosen for the building’s façade to help the structure blend in with the natural surroundings and a gabled roof line will be used to improve architectural quality and reduce visual monotony. There will be an 8-foot ornamental fence that will closely hug the perimeter of the driveway around the building, which is required to meet the security requirements of New York State Department of Health.
The vast majority of the Airport Site was previously cleared of trees prior to the 1940s. Over half of the second growth on the Airport Site is populated by trees which can be found on the NYSDEC invasive species list. The Water Filtration Plant project site will be cleared of 549 second-growth trees; however, 302 native trees will be restored to the Airport Site along with extensive native plantings. The dominant invasive tree species are the Norway Maple, Black Locust, Norway Spruce and Tree of Heaven. The landscape plan for the Airport Site presents an opportunity to reintroduce more than 55 native and site-appropriate species to rebuild the local ecosystem, which will restore the habitat and soil health, and outcompete invasive vegetation.
The Water Filtration Plant will be located on a portion of the Westchester County Airport’s land area lying in an SB-0 Zone (nonresidential) of the Town of Harrison. The parcel is strategically located adjacent to the existing WJWW pump station at Rye Lake near the northern end of Purchase Street, approximately 1/4 mile south of the intersection with Route 120.
The parcel is a unique combination of land uses with private aviation hangars and aircraft parking aprons immediately adjacent to the east, and airport access land and Tower Road immediately to the south.
Purchase Street between I-287 and Route 120 incorporates diverse uses from office parks at the southern end to Westchester County Airport at the northern end. The Purchase Street corridor traverses a broad range of land-use types along a four-mile segment, including single-family neighborhoods, golf courses, mixed-use resort property, religious institutions and a range of educational uses in varying scales.
The Water Filtration Plant building footprint of approximately 34,000 square feet (sf) equates to a smaller range of hangar footprints typical on the airport property. Larger flight operations/hangar facilities at the airport range from approximately 60,000 sf to more than 154,000 sf. Smaller airport structures and hangars range from approximately 10,000 sf to 60,000 sf. Golf course clubhouses, religious institutions and educational facilities can be found in a wide range of footprints along the Purchase Street corridor, ranging from approximately 8,000 sf to 30,000 sf. Single-family homes represent a wide diversity of footprints from approximately 2,500 sf to 10,000 sf and larger. The proposed Water Filtration Plant building consists of an above-ground area comprising a main floor and partial second levels. A significant portion of the plant’s process area is below ground level, in some areas up to two stories down.
The cost of the Water Filtration Plant is currently estimated at $138 million, with construction expected to be completed by 2027. The cost includes construction, as well as, design, permitting, engineering, legal, and environmental consulting. The cost of the Water Filtration Plant was originally estimated at $100 million, with construction expected to be completed by 2025. Now that the timeline for the construction has been pushed out to 2027, and assumptions regarding inflation, etc. have changed significantly, the current estimated total project cost is $138 million.
The cost of building the plant will be funded principally through bonds issued by WJWW’s member municipalities and, to the extent available, grants. Bond debt service is expected to be supported through the water rates paid by WJWW consumers. WJWW recently received a $5 million Water Infrastructure Improvement (WIIA) Grant for this project from New York State and will continue to pursue other grant opportunities.
How much of an increase will I see on my bill associated with construction of the Water Filtration Plant?
It is anticipated that the filtration plant project will, on average, increase water rates by approximately 9% annually over the next five years. This translates to a total cost per gallon of approximately 1.4 cents in contrast to the cost of a gallon of bottled water, which is upward of $1.00.
WJWW has explored alternatives with the New York State Department of Health, including pipelines and pump stations from other water sources, and instituted short-term measures such as a new water intake system and turbidity curtain at Rye Lake. A Water Filtration Plant was determined to be the best option and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in 2019, mandated that the plant be constructed at Rye Lake.
WHY IS A FILTRATION PLANT NEEDED IF WJWW HAS CONSTRUCTED AN ULTRAVIOLET TREATMENT FACILITY AT RYE LAKE?
These are two independent projects intended to address separate water-quality issues. The Water Filtration Plant and the Ultraviolet (UV) Treatment Facility will be located on different parcels at two separate properties. Each project is intended to improve drinking water quality by addressing distinct rules for the treatment of surface water.
WJWW’s surface water supply from Rye Lake is the only public surface water supply in Westchester that is not treated for the organism cryptosporidium as required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule. WJWW has constructed a UV facility at Rye Lake to address an immediate public health risk by treating for cryptosporidium, which has been detected at Rye Lake. UV treatment is a proven technology to control cryptosporidium, often referred to as “crypto.” Crypto has been detected at Rye Lake and, if left untreated, can cause gastrointestinal illnesses and other health risks, especially in vulnerable individuals. Construction of the facility was completed in December 2021 and was placed into service January 2022.
The Water Filtration Plant will specifically address compliance with the Stage 2 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule, which provides for increased public health protection against the potential risks for cancer associated with long-term exposure to high levels of disinfection by-products, including haloacetic acids (HAA5). The water filtration plant will control levels of HAA5 found in the drinking water by removing organic matter naturally found in Rye Lake.
The Water Filtration Plant and the UV Treatment Facility will be about 1,850 linear feet away from each other, across Interstate 684 and on different parcels at two separate properties in Harrison. The UV facility is located on Lake Street, on property owned by NYC Department of Environmental Protection, and the filtration plant would be on the property to be acquired from Westchester County at the airport through an equal exchange of property already owned by WJWW. The water filtration plant will control levels of HAA5 found in the drinking water by removing organic matter naturally found in Rye Lake.
When WJWW was first notified of the need to filter its water supply in the early 1990s, following new state and federal regulations, it entered into stipulation with the state Department of Health for the design and completion of a Water Filtration Plant within 51 months of acquiring property on which to build the plant. The New York State Attorney General obtained an injunction in 1999 requiring WJWW to build the plant. In 2004, the Attorney General representing the state Health Commissioner entered judgment, which was upheld by the Appellate Court in 2005.
WJWW began the process of obtaining necessary approvals and building the plant on land it had acquired in the Town of Harrison. It also took steps to comply with disinfection treatment requirements, including the use of new and modified water tanks. WJWW completed the project design in a timely manner and received state approvals. In 2006, shovels hit the ground, but litigation and permitting issues blocked the project, for which the Town/Village of Harrison Planning Board was the Lead Agency for the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act review.
Since being ordered to filter, WJWW has implemented measures and sought alternatives to treat the water supply, but the filtration plant has been deemed the best measure to treat the water and is now mandated by the 2019 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency order to provide the safest drinking water to consumers.
In July 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a request requiring WJWW to submit a plan within 30 days to address surface water treatment violations. Later that year, the U.S. EPA issued another administrative order requiring WJWW to begin design of the proposed filtration plant and initiate the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) process by January 31, 2020, with the plant completed and operational by October 15, 2024. WJWW has been working to comply with that mandate through its current proposal to build the plant on land adjacent to an active area at Westchester County Airport. That proposal is again being opposed by special interests and advancement of the SEQRA process had been delayed by the Town/Village of Harrison Planning Board. This delay caused WJWW to miss the U.S. EPA October 1, 2020 deadline to complete the SEQRA process. Any further unnecessary delays clearly jeopardize public health and risk missing additional mandated deadlines of state and federal orders, which will result in the accrual of even greater fines and penalties.
On March 10, 2021, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation designated WJWW as “Lead Agency” for the project. The DEC’s ruling cleared the way, without expectation of further delay, for WJWW to move forward with the SEQRA process and toward construction of the water filtration plant by end of 2024, the deadline mandated by the U.S. EPA. On September 29, 2022, WJWW deemed the Final Impact Statement for Rye Lake Water Filtration Plant complete and on October 12, 2022, adopted a Findings Statement for the project.