The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

December 1, 2012

Let's use the Clean Water Act here

Guest Commentary
The Daily Star

---- — A recent story in the Cooperstown Crier announced “Water quality group to learn more ab out Chesapeake’s TDML (Total Daily Maximum Load)” – just after I read remarks by Pete Didisheim, Natural Resources Council of Maine Advocacy Director, at Bates College on Oct. 1, 2012.

He spoke on the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, focusing on the cleanup of the Androscoggin River (one of the ten most-polluted rivers in the nation in the 1960s), through the use of new technologies, stiff penalties and citizen-suit provisions that allow members of the public to take polluters or agencies to court to keep our waters clean.

I have heard and read quite a lot about the Otsego County Quality Coordinating Committee during the last few years, but not a word about its regulatory authority. The press release for this meeting includes the following:

The members have technical expertise and knowledge and are committed to working to improve and maintain the quality of water in Otsego County through the reduction of non-point source pollution within its boundaries.

Without the will to engage in legal action against polluters, this is just talk, and this situation has gone on for too long.

In 1991, I asked the environmental administrator of the Biological Field Station to accompany me on a visit to the Village of Cherry Valley, and showed him where the local laundromat was dumping directly into the storm sewer, and a half-mile away where the soap suds were entering Cherry Valley Creek, a protected trout stream.

There was no action. In 1998, I threatened a lawsuit under the Clean Water Act against the DEC for permitting the laundromat to continue operating. It was closed, which created a hardship for many in Cherry Valley, but the alternative was to install a holding tank and have it pumped regularly, which the owner declined to do.

Three years ago, the Village of Cooperstown Department of Public Transportation again dumped snow from village streets on the lakeside parking lot at Fairy Spring Park. This snow contained hydraulic oil, motor oil, gasoline and ice-melting chemicals from Cooperstown’s streets, none of which should be anywhere near the lake.

The ongoing conflict between the New York Department of Transportation and the Village of Cooperstown over the spraying of chemical weed killer along state Route 80/West Lake Road continues without involvement or even comment from the Biological Field Station, the Water Quality Coordinating Committee or the Soil and Water Conservation Office. Where are they?

Ten years ago, an effort was made to establish a Lake Keeper Position for Otsego Lake, similar to the programs on Lake George and the Hudson River. A one-time grant of $25,000 was secured, along with a boat and four-cycle motor. This initiative had the support of Win McIntyre, technical adviser to the Watershed Supervisory Committee, and Henry F. Cooper, Jr., who spoke in support of the initiative at the Village Board meeting. The Otsego County Conservation Association representative, Teresa Winchester, spoke against the proposal, and the Biological Field Station failed to support it as well, with Matt Albright saying: “We don’t think it is necessary.”

To this day, there is no office, department or even a sign at the Biological Field Station that says “Lake Protection.” They never challenged the use of pesticides on the golf course or polluting two-cycle engines on the lake. What do they do?

Being the headwaters lake and community of the Susquehanna River is more than a location. It is a position, and with that comes a downstream responsibility to monitor and protect the water that starts here.

We’ve had enough pontificating and “sharing of information.” It is clearly time to step up and protect Otsego Lake and the Upper Susquehanna River. As the writer Edward Abbey said, “it is not enough to understand the natural world. The point is to defend and protect it.”

MICHAEL WHALING is a Sharon Springs resident.