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Rotterdam says misconceptions on water access could lead to crisis without conservation


ROTTERDAM, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Driving through Rotterdam neighborhoods, it wasn’t hard to find sprinklers running and feeding vibrant, green grass and bursting flower beds with their much-needed H2O. However, at high noon, not a single one of those sprinklers should have been running, according to town ordinance.

This week, Rotterdam launches its new conservation initiative focused on education first before reprimands. Department of Public Works crews will now patrol the areas and hand out door hangers reminding those caught using their sprinklers and hoses what the approved hours are for watering.

“These regulations aren’t about controlling people or saying you can’t have a green lawn, but our system requires time to replenish itself,” explains Rotterdam Stormwater Manager Mary Barrie.

Homes with automatic sprinkler systems can be used on even calendar days for even numbered properties from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. and the same for odd properties on odd calendar days. Properties utilizing handheld watering or manual sprinklers can use them between 6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m and 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on their respective odd or even calendar days.

When getting video of lawns running their systems in the middle of the day Thursday, one neighbor commented to NEWS10 he didn’t know there was a sprinkling ordinance and wondered why the need for one given Rotterdam’s proximity to the Great Flats Aquifer. Barrie and other members of the Rotterdam Conservation Advisory Council say this is a common misconception.

“That closeness of course has people assuming there’s an infinite supply and that it gets recharged at the same rate it’s used,” says Kathy Curtis, a founding member of the council.

The problem, according to Senior Water Plant Operator Justin Peterson, is that Rotterdam has long outgrown its aging water pipes that are only about six inches in diameter. That might be able to handle the water usage during low points in the winter when Rotterdam pumps about three million gallons per day, but the system is strained during the summer when usage can get as high as 10 million gallons a day, risking water main breaks.

“The lines will only pump a certain amount of gallons per minute. They can’t go over that amount, and if anything, they might end up pumping less if you put too much pressure on them,” Peterson explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton. “The best analogy I can give you is you can only blow so hard through a small straw.”

Barrie says that’s why the town has ramped up its reminders to town neighbors about conservation. She and Former Fire Chief Lloyd Denny agree the biggest risk they’re trying to avoid is reducing water pressure when in an emergency like a fire.

“Last spring, we had a major fire here in the town. It was a storage facility, and we put a large tax on the water system and we had to do all we could do just to pull the water out of the system. We had to bring tanker trucks in from the Air [National] Guard,” explains Denny.

“Especially if there’s a major fire during the day and everybody is filling their pools and watering their lawns, then it’s a problem. Heaven forbid we have two fires across town, because our water districts have a tank system that relies on each other to maintain the pressure. So if we don’t have the water here, we’re not going to have it on the other side of town either and then it becomes hard for us to fight the fires,” he goes on to say.

“We ask people to think about maybe it’s your house. Maybe it’s your neighbor’s house. What if it’s your school? What if it’s one of the nursing homes in town? We want to make sure that we have adequate pressure in our system to put out a fire,” Barrie adds.

Curtis also says if your goal is a green lawn, grass doesn’t actually need that much, even on extremely hot days.

“If grass roots are two inches deep, ten minutes really will do it. Everything after that is waste,” she explains.

She says easy, at-home fixes could include having your own rain barrel and using that to water your lawn and plants. On top of complying with the sprinkling ordinance, you can also keep an eye on your faucets to be able to quickly fix leaks and turn everything off as soon as you’re done using it.

The town also has more projects on the horizon to make conservation easier for everyone. As NEWS10 has reported, Rotterdam’s town board has applied for several state and federal grants to improve the town’s outdated water infrastructure.

“We’d like to either upsizing our water mains starting at the plant and then branching out or adding redundant water mains throughout the town to help divert water around smaller areas,” Peterson says. “It’s difficult to be able to afford a total replacement of a water main. A lot of what we do — what our water and sewer maintenance department does — is Band-Aids.”

“People tend to forget it needs the required operations and maintenance. Like everything we build, we have to maintain it, so what I’d like to see is some of that money going to fixing up and properly managing the conservation elements we do have,” Barrie says.

Of course the town conservationists say the “elephant in the room” on many residents minds is the contentious debate over water meters. As NEWS10 has reported, over the last few months Rotterdam has been in talks with the DEC over state permit requirements to implement residential metering. DEC says this is a requirement of every New York municipality to contribute towards water conservation.

While metering is not currently on the table in Rotterdam, conservation council members say any future law on metering wouldn’t be the end-all it seems to be perceived as.

“I do feel a tendency from people who feel like don’t tell me what to do, this is my property, I pay my taxes, but most people are going to comply because if it’s the law, we’re generally law-abiding citizens,” says Curtis.

“I can think of an example like the Clean Indoor Air Act where people couldn’t smoke indoors. Oh it was literally the end of the world as we know it to certain folks, and six months later, people forget it was ever any other way. Plastic bag bans — end of the world, six months later everyone is in the habit and they can’t even remember it being any other way. I think it’s going to be fine. We’re all going to be fine,” she concludes.


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