By DANIEL OFFNER
In response to a civil lawsuit against Westchester County government for failing to implement the Ultra Violet treatment necessary to comply with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, officials with the Westchester Joint Water Works are assuring its customers that the water is safe to drink.
“Our water is tested daily and it meets all drinking water quality standards,” said Chairman of the Water Works Board of Trustees and Mamaroneck Mayor Norman Rosenblum, a Republican. “All of the water we distribute is treated and disinfected using standard acceptable and approved methods.”
The Westchester Joint Water Works serves as a municipally governed utility, which supplies drinking water to its customers in the town and village of Mamaroneck and the Town/Village of Harrison. It also sells water to the Village of Larchmont—where the WJWW facilities are located—and provides water to small portions of Rye City and New Rochelle.
Despite the fact that the joint water works communities are not mentioned in the civil lawsuit filed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Attorney’s office, an influx of concerned residents have inquired about the safety of the water supply, according to Water Works Business Director David Birdsall.
The suit, filed earlier this month, first arose after the county failed to comply with an April 2012 deadline requiring it implement a method of UV treatment in Water District No. 1, which currently serves residents in nearby White Plains, Scarsdale, North Castle, Mt. Vernon and Yonkers.
“Westchester County has an obligation to protect the public and come into compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck. “In 2013, it is hard to believe there is resistance to taking action to prevent water-borne diseases.”
Birdsall added that, while Water District No. 1 currently receives part of its residential water supply from the Westchester Joint Water Works’ 30-inch water main, more commonly referred to as “Shaft 22,” the remaining water supply comes direct from the Kensico Reservoir and does not pass through a UV treatment facility.
Although District No. 1 has failed to comply with UV treatment of unfiltered surface water for Cryptosporidium—a microscopic parasite that can cause a potentially fatal gastrointestinal illness in humans—officials with the Westchester Joint Water Works argue that 100 percent of its water supply is treated by acceptable and approved disinfecting methods.
According to Caren Halbfinger, director of public information and communication with the Westchester County Department of Health, there have been no reported outbreaks of cryptosporidiosis, the disease caused by the parasite, anywhere in the county.
Tony Conetta, manager of the Westchester Joint Water Works, said that, since late 2013, water received by more than 60 percent of its customers has been subjected to a second additional level of disinfecting at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection’s new state-of-the-art UV treatment facility in Eastview.
“Shaft 22 provides approximately half our annual water supply to the Westchester Joint Water Works community,” Conetta told The Sound and Town Report. “The other half, on an average year, comes from Rye Lake.”
Conetta added that the water works has been aiming to provide the roughly 120,000 customers it serves with the same level of disinfecting and has, for the last few years, been in the process of developing plans to make facilities improvements and modifications.
In an effort to comply with the federal and state regulations, the county and water works officials agreed to connect to the New York City DEP’s ultraviolet treatment facility last year.
With the connection to the DEP’s ultraviolet treatment plant in Eastview now operational, the Westchester Joint Water Works will look to address the remaining 40 percent of its service area. According to Birdsall, the water works currently has plans on the table, which are still awaiting the approval of local and state agencies.