United Water New York Pulls out of Task Force; Claims Consultant’s Findings are Inaccurate

Report was prepared with figures provided by UWNY


In a shock move, United Water New York recently left the Rockland County Water Task Force table after disagreeing with the findings of an independent report produced with figures it supplied to nationally renowned conservation and efficiency expert Amy Vickers.

“United Water will continue to look for opportunities to collaborate with partners, including the Task Force, who are committed to achieving shared goals,” General Manager Chris Graziano explained.

Yesterday, Legislator Harriet Cornell — chairwoman, Rockland Task force on Water Resources Management — was to have met Graziano and UWNY President David Stanton to discuss plans moving forward.

“They can choose to categorize it as they wish,” Cornell told the Rockland County times. “At this point nothing has come from the state Public Service Commission Notice of Aug. 6, 2015 or the Order of Nov. 17, 2014, indicating United Water is no longer expected to work with the task force.”

A 19-member task force including United Water had been formed to look at water conservation.

Graziano said the task force “is only a creation of a resolution of the Rockland County Legislature, not a local law, that does not attempt to order any party to serve on it,” Graziano said.

“It’s to the advantage of United Water to be part of this community effort,” Cornell countered. There were a number of projects being worked on with United Water and various committees of the task force. “Given that 90 percent of the county’s drinking water comes from United Water, it’s incumbent upon them to be an active partner.”

United Water is still looking to find its footing following the 2014 decision by the Public Service Commission (PSC) ordering United Water to suspend work on the Haverstraw Project, a desalination plant proposed in 2006 based upon anticipated population and demand growth. The anticipated demand never developed, gutting bureaucratic support for the otherwise unpopular project to purify Hudson River water.

PSC further told United Water to work with the task force to reduce water demands by two million gallons daily, study potential water supply projects to provide two to three gallons per day, and actively participate in developing new, more sustainable water policies.

On June 30, 2015, United Water filed its report on the Feasibility of Incremental Water Supply Projects and Conservation Opportunities in Rockland County, New York (UWNY Report). On July 22, 2015, the Task Force filed its report, Water Losses and Customer Water Use in the United Water New York System, prepared by their consultant, Amy Vickers & Associates, Inc. (Vickers Report).

Public comments on both reports and whether, based upon them, PSC should authorize United Water to abandon the Haverstraw Project, are due October 5, 2015; replies to comments are due October 19, 2015. The reports, and other documents related to the matter, are available for review at the Department of Public Service webpage for Case 13-W-0303.

Vickers was hired to conduct Phase I of the water study – identifying opportunities to efficiently save water. What she found is that Rockland can add seven million gallons of water each day by reducing demand and repairing its leaking system.

“It’s unreasonable for United Water to pull out in the middle of our work,” task force member George Potanovic, Jr. said. “The water company provides a very important source of data and expertise that the Task force needs to continue its work. However, we also need to know that its data is reliable data.”

United Water felt the Vickers Report citing bad pipes and excessive leaks in the system beyond repair was inaccurate and asked for a peer review, Potanovic said.

The company had a chance to view Vickers’ report before it was released publicly due to its concern that the report would include specific information that could identify certain customers and to ensure that this information was kept confidential.

From the time Vickers began receiving data from United Water Vickers was in constant contact with the staff and those who worked there. “She would question why certain numbers that were sent to her didn’t reflect he same answers United Water gave to the PSC,” Cornell said. Vickers was working a few months sending email to staff members and getting different answers, sometimes entire sets of figures that were different.

During its two months of contract negotiations with the task force, United Water wanted to be sure Vickers’ data would not reveal confidential info relating to its customers. “Her report went to United Water and to the PSC, and I didn’t see it until after United Water was able to see there was no breach of confidentiality.” Cornell said.

After Vickers’ report was released, United Water hired Ove Arup & Partners P.C. to conduct a peer review.

“The task force is going forward and will continue committee meetings” to identify ways of efficiently conserving water to avoid future need for a desalination plant or another large, expensive project to increase its supply. “Work hasn’t stopped. We have a job to do and we intend to do it,” Cornell said.

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