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A New Wave in Water Re-Use: The Hudson Valley

By Brett Rosenberg
March 8, 2010

Municipalities nationwide face unique water infrastructure challenges. During the rescheduled Mayors Water Council meeting, which occurred just prior to the 2010 U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Leadership meeting February 24, water industry practitioners provided the mayors with a case study in innovative wastewater reuse.

Teno West, of the law firm Pannone Lopes Devereaux & West LLC, and Farzin Kiani, Vice President of Operations of Veolia Water North America, focused on a new wastewater treatment plant in Rockland County (NY), approximately 20 miles north of New York City. The plant, which treats up to 1.5 million gallons of water per day, is the first of its kind in the state: a Design/Build/Operate, or DBO facility, in which a private company, under contract with a particular jurisdiction, designs a treatment plant, oversees its construction, then operates it according to strict contract specifications. In New York, the state legislature must pass specific legislation for such a public-private partnership to proceed in the state; each state has its own rules in this regard.

The circumstances in Rockland County required a unique approach to water treatment. According to West, the existing treatment facility in this densely populated area would not have been adequate or appropriate to receive the additional wastewater load redirected from widespread and unsanitary leaking septic systems. Instead, West said, an environmental review process resulted in the need for advanced treatment, leading to a final treated product close to drinking water quality, which would be pumped back into the sole source aquifer serving Rockland County and northern Bergen County (NJ) for later re-use, as well as the Hudson River.

The review process revealed the need for advanced treatment, which included ultrafine microfiltration and ultraviolet irradiation, not to mention blasting into a cliffside during construction. Costs mounted. The cliffside site was necessary due to complex rights-of-way and condemnation issues. As West put it, “The closer you get to New York City, the more valuable [are] the oak trees.” In all, the initial cost estimates surmounted $50 million for the new plant. As bids came, Veolia’s DBO offer amounting to $45 million seemed like the best deal for the ratepayers and in terms of water quality.

The Rockland County Sewer District’s contract with Veolia stipulates that the company will operate the plant, currently undergoing treatment testing, for five years once operational. According to Kiani, staffing the plant will take minimal manpower; it is mostly automated and will necessitate only three employees for five eight-hour days per week. The minimal labor requirements coupled with automated systems will keep costs at a minimum while treating water to levels beyond federal guidelines. At the end of the five-year operations contract, Rockland County and Veolia will renegotiate the next steps for the plant, based on local needs, environmental requirements and any new conditions that may arise.