The Full Story on Rockland County that Activists Won’t Tell You
Activists have taken a sudden interest in Rockland County, a community in southern New York that has been grappling with long-term water supply challenges for over a decade.
As previously seen in Atlanta, Camden, Felton, Indianapolis, and other communities across the country, activists have tried to spin Rockland County’s challenges to support their own ideological agenda. They ignore and misrepresent key facts with the aim of smearing the professional water provider charged with delivering clean water to the community.
For instance, Food & Water Watch (FWW) addressed Rockland County in a blog earlier this month, calling efforts by SUEZ NA and state regulators to address supply issues a “scam” and a “rip-off.”[i] Earlier, in January, an email and accompanying website post from the Rockland Water Coalition decried an “aborted” desalination project and portrayed SUEZ NA as only looking out for its own bottom line.[ii]
The only thing these activists got right in their spin was that a desalination plant was pursued in Rockland County. But several key points – especially the hows and the whys – were misrepresented or completely ignored.
Even though a simple read of the local newspaper can provide this information, it seems that activist groups are having great trouble understanding simple facts on the ground in Rockland County. Here’s the full story you won’t get from their spin:
- As The Journal News of the Lower Hudson Valley explains, SUEZ NA did not pursue the desalination facility on its own. Rather, the company was required to pursue a new long-term water supply plan by state regulators in 2006.[iii] The Rockland County government supported the desalination facility plan at the time, recognizing a need for a new water source to meet long-term water demand.[iv]
- Audrey Zibelman, chairwoman of the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC), confirmed the state’s role in a statement to The Journal News in December 2015: “It is our obligation to ensure the company takes all appropriate action to provide a clean and reliable water supply … the commission first asked the company to develop a new long-term water supply in 2006.”[v]
- In May 2014, eight years after SUEZ NA had begun working on the plant at the PSC’s direction, experts at the commission found that demand for water had fallen in Rockland, and thus the timing of a new water supply project could be extended to 2020.[vi] Notably, the PSC experts recommended that SUEZ NA continue to pursue the permits it needed to construct the desalination plant so that they would be in position to build if needed to meet demand, which was expected to increase.[vii]
- The May 2014 PSC experts’ report also found that no additional supply could be provided from the local reservoir, that repairing system leaks wouldn’t substantially boost supply, and that available groundwater was inadequate to address long-term supply challenges.[viii] This report clearly proves false the activist claim that the PSC and SUEZ NA did not consider or pursue alternative options to desalination.
- As recent as May 2014, Rockland County hydrologists had concerns about long-term water supply options. Even when using updated statistics that showed a decrease in average demand and peak use, the County’s hydrologist said projections showed annual supply capacity would be adequate until only 2018.[ix]
- It wasn’t until December 2015 that SUEZ NA was given a clear direction from the PSC to stop work on the desalination plant – a full nine years after being asked to pursue one by the state.[x] The PSC has since ruled, after review, that all expenses related to the project were prudent and appropriate, and therefore are eligible for reimbursement.[xi]
Those are the facts on the ground. As the water provider for Rockland County, SUEZ NA is required to meet supply benchmarks to avoid water shortages. The company followed orders from the PSC to that end for nine years, pursuing an approved, viable, long-term solution.
Water supply is a serious and complex issue, and Rockland County provides another example of a troubling trend: the inability of activists to understand and tell the full story on important water issues. While activists aim to do nothing but rile constituents, we applaud those working together to find proven, viable solutions to urgent water challenges.