Rensselaerville water users not on alert

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia
Lake Myosotis, on Sept. 30, reflects the bright sun's afternoon light in the Huyck Preserve in Rensselaerville. The lake's water is drained into a water system for the Rensselaerville hamlet.

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Honor Roll: A service board where firefighters filled up their water tanks before Tropical Storm Irene came in 2011 is the site of new construction this month as a dry hydrant is installed and the town repaves the site to restore its use for fire protection. Pictured above, the site is extremely close to the turbid waters of the Catskill Creek as mid-June rains fall. It is known as the Honor Roll because it had a monument listing veterans’ names that was washed away during the storm.

RENSSELAERVILLE — Water and Sewer committee Chairman Thomas Delp plans to retract a notice sent to water and sewer users in the hamlet describing the systems as compromised.

“We determined conclusively that there is no storage-tank leak,” said Delp, referring to system operator Douglas Story’s report during the September board meeting that the water system was at a critical point due to a leak he suspected was in the storage tank, or the pipe leading out from it.

Delp said he was out of the country for the past few weeks, when the notice was sent out. He and Story recently shut off the flow of water leaving the water storage tank and measured no loss during an hour and a half.

Delp said the system always has leaks, but he has seen no major problems so far. He said he works with Story almost daily, but isn’t sure why he came to the conclusions he did.

“I think we have an overreaction from the operator, that he’s not been doing his job as well as he should in terms of maintaining the filter,” said Delp. “As the filter output decreases, the water in the storage tank goes down. That may be it. I’m not absolutely certain.”

Story said he and Delp have no disagreement, but he raked the filter when he needed to. “There’s no getting around it,” he said. “When the water stops running through the filter, you have to rake it or you get no more water.”

The notice asked that water uses be limited and invited users to an informational meeting in October. It said: “It is very important that this situation be rectified as soon as possible!”

Story surmised there was a leak because the amount of water needed to be filtered from Lake Myosotis and kept in its storage tank was greater than that pumped out to its users at the bottom of the hill.

Delp said yesterday there is no significant shortage. The only number recorded daily is the number of gallons passing through the filter, he said.

The water is gravity fed from the dam into a sedimentation tank, a slow sand filter, and a chlorination system before entering the storage tank. The system serves around 80 homes and businesses and up to 200 people.

“Someone has apparently connected a sump pump to the sewer system,” the meeting notice said, continuing, “The sewer pumps are forced to pump this extra water which can be as much as 2x’s the normal volume. This will raise the cost for all the users and will ultimately result in a shorter life span of our leach fields.” Sump pumps are typically used to pump water that collects in basements and many municipalities have codes that prevent the excess water from entering the municipal system, which can be overwhelmed.

Both Story and Delp believe the source is not an individual, but many users generally diverting stormwater into the system. Story said this can dilute nutrients for bacteria that break down waste in the leach fields.

“It’s probably a moving target,” said Delp, adding that most homeowners in the hamlet might do it if it’s the most convenient option when a basement is flooded.

“Every sewage plant in the world suffers from people putting stormwater in the sanitary sewer,” said Delp. “And that’s pretty hard to monitor. It’s an awareness thing.”

In March, Story had reported to the board that the water system was losing water and surmised it could be a leak in the upper part of the tank, possibly existing for years. Noting the capacity of the storage tank could handle the demand, he said there was no immediate concern. The water and sewer committee, Story said, suggested then that the town board set up a capital fund into which small amounts of money could be saved for any emergency repairs in the future.

“This year, we’ve had two or three calls with large concerns about the cost of the special-district taxes for the water, and there is a limit to how much it can be raised each year,” said Supervisor Valerie Lounsbury at the March meeting, referring to the state-set cap on levy increases. “So we will have to take all this into consideration.”

Story and his assistant have so far inspected the system’s lateral and main pipes and found no major leaks, he said at the September meeting.

Story apologized during the September meeting for fluctuations in chlorine, added to kill bacteria, and turbidity, the cloudiness of the water caused by particles.

Watershed restoration

Rensselaerville has three projects in areas damaged by Tropical Storm Irene eligible for grant money from the National Resource Conservation Service of the United States Department of Agriculture.

The projects would be reimbursed with 75 percent through the federal Emergency Watershed Protection Program and 25 percent from the state to repair damage done by Irene. Other repairs have been completed since the 2011 storm, using funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the State Emergency Management Office.

Highway Superintendent Randall Bates told the board one project this month involves the fortification of a stream bank, along with the construction of a dry hydrant, beside the Catskill Creek on Route 145. The site is called the “Honor Roll” after a veterans’ memorial plaque there that was washed away during Irene. Local firefighters use the site to park their trucks and fill their tanks with water but have been unable to since the bank was washed out during the storm.

A dry hydrant is a pipe with one end submerged under water and another from which fire departments can pump water out of ponds, lakes, or streams.

“We will pave the site to whatever specifications that the fire company desires,” said Bates. The landscaping, grading, and paving will be funded with FEMA money. The total cost of the dry hydrant installation will be around $244,000.

The second project, at Snyder Lane Bridge in Preston Hollow, requires laying large boulders to “armor” the stream bank and protect the bridge from high-volume waters. The town agreed to do the work, which Bates estimated would require 150 tons of rocks for $35,000.

The western end of the bridge’s abutment is washed out, or scoured, Bates said. The bridge is owned by the county and work underneath it is in the county’s jurisdiction, he said. County officials have dumped rock to temporarily stabilize the abutment.

Downstream is Mercer Lane Bridge. At the town board’s April meeting, Gary Smith, with his mother, brought maps to show where his property floods, he says, as a result of restoration work done in the stream after Irene. He asked whether the town could make the creek wider to alleviate the flooding on his property on Mercer Lane.

Town highway workers pushed up a berm to restore the stream bank near Smith’s property as they were cleaning out debris from under bridges immediately following the storm, Bates said this week.

Bates also said this week that the town will have no involvement as a DEC official had inspected the property and said the work was sufficient. Rick Georgeson, spokesman for the department’s Region 4 office, wrote in an e-mail the The Enterprise that DEC issued a permit on Sept. 17 to allow Smith to mitigate the flooding on his property with a private contractor. Permits are required for work in or near protected waterways.

“Staff do not believe that the town’s stream work is contributing to localized flooding in the area,” Georgeson wrote. “That stretch of the stream has had problems over the years with flooding and erosion, and there is a history of multiple permits being issued over the years to repair that section of the stream.”

The third project, installing a dry hydrant within the hamlet of Medusa, on County Route 351, Bates called “purely tentative.”

“The county had officially abandoned the project,” Bates told the town board at the September meeting. “They signed off. They’re not going to do it. They’re never going to do it. They’re done with it.”

Mary Rozak, spokeswoman for the Albany County Executive’s office, said Wednesday that the damage left by Irene made it impossible to install a new dry hydrant.

“Where the hydrant would be, it’s air,” said Rozak. “There isn’t any water there.” The county understood the town would investigate a plan to bury water tanks underground, she said.

“They said that they did not think the dry hydrant was feasible there because it’s very turbulent water,” Lounsbury said of the county. “They also stated that they really don’t have the funding to rebuild the road and put the hydrant back in.

The money originally sought for the Medusa project gets redistributed to other areas, Bates said, but a smaller grant is tentatively available through NRCS that the town could pursue. The original proposal from NRCS was over $200,000, Bates said. Now, it could be $90,000.

The board voted, 5 to 0, to have Bates ask an engineer currently used by the town to do a feasibility study, paid for with FEMA funds. Bates said the study will “determine if the work can be done, what can be done, and what it would cost. And we could compare that to the money we have available to see if there’s something we could do.”

Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Voted, 5 to 0, to transfer a total of $165,320 towards a new snowplow truck for the highway department;

— Voted, 5 to 0, to change a policy in Town Hall of stamping and filing all envelopes it receives and will instead stamp the documents themselves.

“If there was extenuating circumstances around an envelope, we would keep that,” Lounsbury told the board. “Other than that, it is just so much to hold on to all these envelopes that come in”;

— Heard from Lounsbury that, out of five accounting firms that received requests for a single audit of the town’s FEMA funds, one firm from Hudson responded.

“They were very nice and they said they were very sorry, but they have all they can handle with single audits this year, so we have no one to do the FEMA audit at this time,” she said, adding that the town would have to continue to search for other accounting firms.

A single audit reviews the financial operations of an entire entity, not a specific program, and is required by the Single Audit Act passed in 1984 for municipalities spending more than $500,000 of federal money in a fiscal year; and

— Voted, 5 to 0, to approve trips for elderly residents on Oct. 1, 4, and 15.

More Hilltowns News

  • R’ville Stage Creations artistic director and founding board member Tara McCormick-Hostash told The Enterprise this week that she wanted the group to offer a space for people who might otherwise be uncomfortable with theater “because it’s the spot I wished I had” as a youth in Rensselaerville.

  • Berne-Knox-Westerlo’s proposed budget, with a 5.09 percent tax increase that required it to be passed with a 60-percent approval rate, failed to reach that threshold by a mere eight votes. The district will have to decide whether to have residents vote on a new budget in June, or move directly to a contingency budget. 

  • Over his nine-plus years as Berne-Knox-Westerlo’s superintendent, Timothy Mundell has led the district through significant challenges, helping to establish a much stronger foundation for the next superintendent than he had coming in. 

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