Sunday, May 27, 2018

Water discussion

How does pollution enter your drinking water? That was a core question at The Taste of Sprawl: A Water Discussion hosted by Hudson Highlands Land Trust. Held Sunday, April 15 at Highlands Country Club in Garrison, the event was filled to capacity and began with a panel discussion followed by afternoon breakout groups focused on particular regions.

Presenters stressed the importance of educating the public about the path water takes to our faucets. Protection of watersheds is crucial. A watershed, also referred to as a catchment or drainage basin, is an area in which water collects and drains into a common larger source such as a reservoir. A watershed consists of a grid of land and surface water such as ponds, rivers, streams, and wetlands, as well as underlying water sources. Watersheds receive precipitation and snowmelt which are either absorbed or run off. Watershed makeup varies. Soil type and saturation vary in watersheds. Soil affects absorption and can be any variety from fine to rocky. Soil that is saturated can’t absorb any more water causing increased run off.

The morning panel, Safe Drinking Water: An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure, featured four panelists: Paul Gallay envoronmental group Riverkeeper, Peter Smith of watershed protection group Quassaick Creek Watershed Alliance, Russell Urban-Mead Hazen engineering company, and Elisa Chae of Cornell Water Resoures Institute/NYS DEC Hudson River Estuary Program. Moderator Carla Casillo of Hudson Valley Regional Council/Cornwall Conservation Advosory Council hoped attendees left with messaging to use in their own communities about the effects of population and industry outpacing water protections. Participants were encouraged to use the event's resources to influence lawmakers and funders, encourage citizen science projects, and examine their own actions.

Panelist Peter Smith of Quassaick Creek Watershed Alliance talked about his exploration of Newburgh's watershed, situated in an increasingly developed industrial region. He found the area was miscategorized and contributing streams were misclassified as not carrying drinking water when in fact they were. The watershed contains a capped landfill and Newburgh's source of drinking water, Washington Lake, is in the flight path of planes that take off and land at Stewart Airport. Panelist Paul Gallay of Riverkeeper said water filtration plants are not a end-all solution. Municipalities must keep contaminants our of water supplies to reduce pressure on filtration systems. He stressed three priorities: investing in infrastructure, tracking down and reducing sources of pollution, and getting ahead of emerging contaminants.

The actions of citizens affect what governments do. Panelist Elisa Chae of Cornell Water Resources Institute/NYS DEC Hudson River Estuary Program talked about the importance of being proactive over reactive. She talked about the regulations on water as it makes its way from underground aquifers to the finished product flowing from our tap. Many people don't know where tap water comes from because there haven't been many newsworthy issues, but these stories are emerging as development increases, notably water problems in Hoosick Falls, Flint and Long Island.  Chae said better technology enables researchers to detect substances before human impact catches up. She stressed that now is the time for communities to voice gaps and needs and that there is funding available to help people better understand and react to issues.

Panelist and hydrogeologist Rusell Urban-Mead of the Chazen Companies explained precipitation. Of the region's snow/rainfall, half supports plants and half sinks into the ground. Climate models indicate in the future we will get this much or more in the future. Paul Gallay from Riverkeeper talked about pharmaceutical disposal within households and plastic reside from plastic bottles. Each winter water sources face contamination from road salt and a panelist recommended a special report on road salt published in 2010 by the Cary Institute in Millbrook, NY

After lunch participants could choose breakout sessions on the areas of Newburgh, Phillipstown, and Beacon. Peter Smith led the Newburgh group with a watershed map and an overview of permits and profits of its industry invaders. The Beacon group was led by City Council member Lee Kyriacou and Asher Pacht of Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries/Beacon Conservation Advisory Committtee. It was interstingto learn about the nearby correctional facility's water use and how Beacon must purchase it's water from outside its city.

How does this information get to the public? Participation is critical. Citizen attendance at government meetings has meaning. Thinking to ourselves that it'll work out in the end isn't solving problems. Panelist Paul Gallay of Riverkeeper was leaving for China a few days later where he was, coincidentally, presenting about the power of public engagement and its effect on policy.

Hudson Highands Land Trust:

Monday, May 14, 2018

Bluff garden in winter

“Vajra is connected with the East, the dawn, winter. It is a winter morning, crystal clear, icicles sharp and glittering, The landscape is not empty or desolate but is full of all sorts of thought-provoking sharpness.”
-Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, Chogyam Trungpa

Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson stretches across nearly 1,000 acres. One of the most historically dense sections is a rectangular walled garden overlooking the Hudson River with a view of the Catskill mountains in the distance. Designed around 1903, Blithewood is an Italianate garden, part of Blithewood Estate which includes a mansion donated to the college. Its angular geometric structure includes paths and beds, statues, semi-enclosed areas, a water feature in its center, a copper-roofed pavilion and two pagodas.  The garden is open year-round and if free to tour.

The college celebrated the garden’s 115th anniversary by kicking off a campaign in 2016 to facilitate its renovation. Because the site is open to the elements year-round deterioration from over a century of freeze/thaw cycles is evident. Plaster from the columns of the pavilion is falling off and brick mortar is crumbling.

Last year a new development in the project was the installation of interpretive signs for visitors. The Bard Arboretum was awarded a grant from the Hudson River Valley Heritage Area to add signs to the site which display the garden’s structures and history. The signs were researched and designed by a Bard graduate student then built in 2017 by local firm Terrabilt which specializes in interpretive, informational, and wayfinding signage that is durable and sustainably constructed.

The hillside below the garden is overrun by invasive plants including common reed and Japanese knotweed and is irregular and steep, making it difficult to maintain. The school implemented an environmentally sound solution by leasing goats to remediate the 1.5-acre hill. The goats eat the weeds for weeks at a time, needing only water and some human help for dense sections. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation awarded the college a 3-year Invasive Species Rapid Response Grant to host the goats for three growing seasons through 2019.

Blithewood Garden: