Ryan calls for residents to speak out about Ashokan Reservoir muddy discharges

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Pat Ryan in Saugerties

SAUGERTIES – Muddy discharges from the Ashokan Reservoir into the lower Esopus Creek have been occurring since 2010, and Tuesday Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan and other municipal leaders urged residents to comment on the state Draft Environmental Impact Statement regarding the issue.

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection manages the Ashokan Reservoir, but the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which has jurisdiction over the discharges into the lower Esopus Creek, is gathering public comments until June 16.

“The New York DEC is going to have to weigh in and basically hold them accountable for what they are doing or not doing,” said Ryan. “The call to action we are making is for the residents of the county to actually raise their concerns to the state.”

This issue has plagued Ulster County communities for many years, and Ryan said he has no idea why there is always a fight with the state and New York City to try and control the mud and muck flowing north toward the creek’s mouth in this village.

“It’s a good question. I think it’s unacceptable that they haven’t been [held accountable], and it’s a big reason of why we are here today to change that,” he said.

It has already been a difficult year so far for muddy discharges. And communities along the Hudson, from which they draw their drinking water, pay the price to clean up from these discharges along with businesses that rely on the tourism dollars from the Esopus and the river.

“We know this is going to get worse. We know with climate change that the effects are not going to go away,” said Ryan. “Certainly, they will actually get worse. The time to act is now, and we have to make that happen.”

“DEP appreciates and understands the concerns voiced by communities along the lower Esopus Creek,” said DEP spokesman Adam Bosch. “We are committed to working with our regulators from the state, and local elected leaders, to improve the current release protocol while preserving the enhanced flood attenuation program that communities downstream of Ashokan Reservoir had long desired, and which yielded clean-water releases for nine years before the Christmas Day storm.”

Bosch also said the releases made from December through April – they ended about 11 days ago – were releases that DEP is required to make. “The downstream communities for years wanted the reservoir to provide enhanced flood attenuation by keeping storage lower during certain parts of the year. The state-issued protocol that we are required to follow calls for the reservoir to be kept at 90 percent or below during winter – when storage rises above that, we are required to make releases to provide additional flood protection downstream. Those are the releases we made this year. They were not to protect the quality of New York City’s drinking water. Rather, they were to provide the enhanced flood attenuation that downstream communities had long lobbied for.”