Passaic Valley Water Commission Update on Construction Projects at Local Reservoirs
The Passaic Valley Water Commission plans to construct two 25 million gallon water tanks at the New Street Reservoir, which is at the entrance to Garret Mountain, to replace the open air reservoir that was flooded after Hurricane Ida. The New Street Reservoir is one of three open-air reservoirs that the EPA has ordered the Commission to replace with covered concrete tanks to minimize the risk of contamination and pollution from run-off etc. They will also be constructing two 2.5 million gallon water tanks at the Stanley M. Levine Reservoir in Paterson’s Great Falls historic district. The Commission hopes to get final permits for the New Street Reservoir so that construction can start this year. The Stanley M. Levine Reservoir has now received the necessary permits from the NJDEP and the Commission hopes to begin construction later this year. Construction to cover the third reservoir, the Great Notch Reservoir, is still the subject of negotiations. The reservoirs hold treated water, which is regularly tested to ensure that our drinking water remains safe. Customers can sign up for PVWC notifications here to be kept up to date on any water quality issues that may arise.
We spoke to Commissioner Joseph Kolodziej, who gave us an update on the individual projects and how they will affect Clifton residents. The Clifton Times appreciates the Commissioner’s contributions to this story.
Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, requiring the United States Environmental Protection Agency to develop mandatory federal standards for all public water systems. The EPA’s role includes investigating threats to the water systems and they determined that open-air reservoirs pose a threat to the drinking water supply as they are susceptible to contamination by feces from wildlife and birds, environmental pollution, and even potentially terrorism. After 9/11 the Federal government did a survey of the entire country to identify open air treated reservoirs and by 2006 issued a mandate that the reservoirs be converted from open air to covered. In 2015, the EPA rule requiring that all reservoirs holding drinkable water be either covered or pass water to a retreatment plant before being sent to taps went into effect. This affected the New Street Reservoir, Stanley M. Levine Reservoir, and the Great Notch Reservoir, which were some of the few uncovered reservoirs left in the country.
The New Street Reservoir
Clifton residents remember that Hurricane Ida brought torrential rain to the area from September 7th to 11th, 2021 causing the Passaic River and nearby streams to rise, resulting in local flooding. The flood waters reached and overflowed the protective berms around the New Street Reservoir, contaminating 52 million gallons of drinking water. PVWC issued a boil water notice on September 9, 2021 that affected 270,000 customers in Clifton, Paterson, Passaic and Woodland Park and also made bottled water available to customers for nearly a month.
On the Clifton News and Community Facebook page, customers spoke out about the frustrations of not having clear communications from the City and PVWC about the boil water notice, which resulted in some people not knowing that the water was not safe to drink for several days. Kathleen Grannis stated that her family only discovered that they needed to take precautions with drinking water and gas lines by accident a few days after the boil water advisory was issued, and that Clifton should have done a reverse 911 to alert residents. Other residents suggested that PVWC should have worked with Clifton to deliver bottled water to disabled and senior residents, who often struggled to get to a pick up location, or had difficulty lifting heavy bottles. PVWC issued a letter to customers in November, explaining the water issues. The clean-up involved not only emptying the reservoir and cleaning it, but also flushing 550 miles of water mains and over 4,000 hydrants. The boil water advisory was finally lifted on October 15, 2021. In the November 2021 letter, PVWC estimated the final costs of the clean-up could reach $5 million, including nearly $2 million alone for bottled water that was made available to customers in the impacted area. Commissioner Kolodziej said that current estimates of the total cost of Hurricane Ida on PVWC is estimated to be about $5.9 million. PVWC has applied to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and is hopeful that as much as $3.9 million can be recovered.
PVWC has been under the leadership of Executive Director Jim Mueller since 2022. Director Mueller has set up a new Communications Department to ensure that PVWC can remedy some of the communications issues seen in the past. The Clifton Times will be bringing you an interview with Director Mueller in the near future on how he sees PVWC’s response to the challenges of aging infrastructure, climate change, and the brown water so many residents complain of. In addition, since Ida PVWC has implemented a number of changes and protocols to help minimize the impact of an Ida-type event in the future. These include a more robust inspection schedule of potential problem areas that may cause stormwater runoff to back-up into the reservoir. PVWC has also enhanced retaining walls and berms around the reservoir where needed. These steps will continue to ensure the safety of our water until the New Street reservoir can be enclosed.
PVWC is currently doing preliminary investigations at the site in preparation for construction of the covered reservoirs. Commissioner Kolodziej confirmed that NJDEP’s approval for New Street is nearly complete. Once all of the necessary permits have been received, the Commission can begin seeking construction bids. PVWC has about 11 months to bid and select contractors. Once construction starts, PVWC has about 30 months to “substantially complete construction of the New Street Reservoir portion of the project”under an Administrative Consent Order (ACO) with the NJ Department of Environmental Protection.
The Stanley M. Levine Reservoir
Construction of two, 2.5-million-gallon tanks at the Stanley M. Levine reservoir was supposed to begin in 2015. But historic preservationists in Paterson objected to disturbing the reservoir, which dates to 1885 and is considered a “contributing asset” to the Great Falls National Historic Park. The timeline was pushed back while the federal government conducted a Federal 106 Review of the Levine reservoir site. This is a lengthy federal review that ensures that historic places and properties are protected from development. That review is now complete. In 2022 PVWC finally received NJDEP approval to proceed with enclosing the Levine Reservoir, and the Commission anticipates that they will break ground by this summer at Levine. PVWC is also operating under an ACO with the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, which allows PVWC about 9 months to bid the project and select contractors. Once construction begins, PVWC is mandated to “substantially complete construction of the Levine Reservoir portion of the project” within about 2 years of the start of construction. This timeline is shorter as the Levine Reservoir is smaller than the New Street one.
The Great Notch Reservoir
The Great Notch Reservoir is subject to the same EPA mandate to either tank, re-treat or cover the water that is stored there. Plans for this reservoir have not yet been finalized with PVWC. Presently NJDEP is reluctant to give preliminary approval and wants PVWC to enter into a shared service agreement with Newark and their water system.