Report to Residents on the Village Water System
The SCWA has been managing our water system for six months and this report will center on what has been learned during this period and what we need to anticipate and plan for going forward. For a look back we have attached the report that they did in July after being on board for one month.
An important milestone was achieved when the new tank was placed into service on November 1st. The old tank was disconnected on November 29th, and removed on December 7th. The SCWA estimated that excess demands on our wells from leaks in the old tank were more than 10k gallons per day (average water usage per person per day in the US is 80-100 gallons, so this represents the water usage of more than 100 people). In the four days following the disconnect, our wells did not run at all as all water demand was satisfied from the tank, and chlorides dropped in half from 240 to 120.
The SCWA has changed the way that our water distribution is monitored and operated. These changes have significantly mitigated the chloride problems that we have experienced in the last eighteen months, and while there is reason to believe that the conditions will continue to improve, it seems clear now that the chloride problem cannot be entirely cured without an additional new well or wells. The SCWA believes the existing wells will never fully recover from the damage done to them in June of 2017, when a substantial leak occurred and water usage spiked. It took nearly two months to discover and correct the source of the problem. In that period, the Village pumped more than 3.5 million gallons of water, approximately equivalent to an entire year’s output. The over use of the wells, especially well #2, created an “up-coning condition” in the aquifer. This condition results in salt water displacing or mixing with fresh water at the well screen and is the primary source of the elevated chlorides in our drinking water that we have experienced for the past 18 months.
Infrastructure Improvements: Meters
The Village needs to anticipate additional infrastructure improvements to the system including new well(s) and controls. In addition to the new tank that is now in service, the SCWA will install meters at each home in the Village at the insistence of the DEC. An essential component of any properly managed water distribution system, the meters will allow for quick identification of leaks and expose residents who misuse Village water for irrigation or pool fills. Additionally, they allow for an equitable allocation of operating costs based on use. The installation timing is not settled, but it will take about six weeks once it begins and the meters will be operational this summer. The cost will be $650 per household. How we fund the project and charge for usage will be a subject in upcoming trustees’ meetings.
Interestingly, all Village homes were equipped with water meters until 1970, when the Village determined to abandon them and fund the water operations from tax revenues.
Infrastructure Improvements: Wells
Last August, the DEC threatened the Village with substantial fines if we did not identify the cause of the chloride problem and produce a plan for correcting it asap. The SCWA responded with a report on November 17th. It is attached (Dering Harbor DEC Chlorides) and contains a detailed discussion and data supporting the conclusions. The short answer is the need to drill new wells.
We have been working with the SCWA to identify new well sites for the last two months and we believe we have identified an ideal site for the wells. Placement is crucial, and part of our current problems stem from the fact that Well #2 was sited too close to Well #1. Our work has benefitted from recent studies done by the U.S. Geological Survey in Dering Harbor to identify and map fresh water density in the aquifer. It is possible that the new wells could be online by next summer, but approval requires layers of regulatory authorizations, which makes the timing uncertain and largely out of our control.
The SCWA and the U.S. Geological Survey have a long-standing working relationship. In recent years, the USGS has conducted testing of the aquifer in Dering Harbor using Magnetic Resonance Soundings (MRS) and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) methods. For the scientists among us, here is the USGS web site that explains the science. https://water.usgs.gov/ogw/bgas/mrs/ For the rest of us, these techniques allow for mapping of the aquifer to identify the fresh water lens, its depth, porosity, and the location and depth of the briny and saltwater layers.
Preliminary studies indicate that the fresh water lens at our current well sites is about 60 feet deep, while the fresh water lens along Manhanset Road appears to be in excess of 100 feet deep. Additionally, this area is protected by a 250’ sanitary easement that was created in the late 80’s when the Dering Woods Subdivision was proposed; approval was given based on provisions for an additional well in that area.
The SCWA is currently consulting with the USGS about these recent findings and seeking their assistance. In the coming weeks we anticipate drilling a test well – or wells if necessary, to confirm ideal location(s), and engineering reports will be prepared for the well application process. We will keep you updated as we learn more.
Water Tank Financing:
NY State, through the Environmental Facilities Corporation, has provided funding for the new tank in the form of a $475k zero interest 30-year loan, a $125k grant, and an agreement to provide additional funding for cost over-runs in excess of the $600k funding package – but at market interest rates. We have currently drawn down $468k of the $475k. We owe the tank contractor approximately $104k and the engineering firm about $8k. Additional funding will be necessary for electrical work, a generator, and a fence around the new tank. It is too early to be certain, but it is estimated that these items will add about another $150k to the project, which will need to be funded at market interest rates.
Infrastructure Financing and Operating Expenses:
In recent years the annual cost to village taxpayers to operate the water system has been very volatile, but has averaged about $85k. This included salaries, repairs, testing, and costs for chemicals. The short-term operating agreement with the SCWA is an annual fixed cost of $49k and includes the costs for testing, chemicals, and routine repairs and maintenance. Extra-ordinary repairs and new infrastructure investments would be an additional cost. The short-term agreement with the SCWA has resulted in meaningful operating savings (approximately 40% less than previous average annual costs), significantly reduced operating risk, created efficiencies, and vastly improved the quality of our water. If we enter into a long-term agreement with the SCWA by June, 2019, which is our goal given our extremely positive experience with them in the past 6 months, the $49k cost of our one-year agreement will be waived. If we are not able to enter into a long-term agreement for some reason, we will extend the short-term agreement for another year. When a long-term agreement is in place, the operating costs for the water distribution system will be paid through fees for water usage measured by new meters at each residence. The SCWA estimates that the average annual cost for water usage will be $480 per household.
Estimates of the cost for the wells and a control facility will be developed in the coming months and we will share them with you when we have them. Under the proposed long-term agreement, the SCWA will fund the new wells and infrastructure and we will pay back these costs over 25 years at a 5% interest rate. The Village’s annual amortization expense for the tank project is approximately $21k to be paid over 30 years. At this point too much is unknown to be definitive about the final financial impact, but it is unlikely that the cost of the new infrastructure investments will create additional tax burdens.
Thanks for those of you who read through the entire report! If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to reach out. We are working on this every day (and by we I mean mostly Patrick, but we are all pitching in) so every day brings more progress (and often set backs). We will keep the updates coming.