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United Water OKs controlled releases as Christie considers executive order

Photo Credit: by TOM SMITH)
Photo Credit: by TOM SMITH)
Photo Credit: by TOM SMITH)
Photo Credit: by TOM SMITH)
Photo Credit: by TOM SMITH)

CLIFFVIEW PILOT BREAKS THE STORY: Following intervention by Assemblyman Robert Schroeder, with the potential of a direct order from Gov. Christie, United Water began controlled releases of water from its reservoirs Thursday afternoon to mitigate expected flooding from Hurricane Irene.

NJ State Assemblyman Robert Schroeder

Schroeder told CLIFFVIEW PILOT that this “will go a long way to easing the concerns of public officials and residents….,” a little more than 10 minutes before the gates were opened.

Our legislative office literally overlooks the banks of the Woodcliff Lake reservoir, and I can see outside my window that the water level is as high as it’s ever been,” he said.

Meanwhile, a source with direct knowledge of the situation told CLIFFVIEW PILOT that Gov. Chris Christie, in conjuction with the state DEP and  OEM, was considering “an emergency order that the gates be lowered” in enough advance of the storm.

It never came to that, however.

“We are carefully monitoring the weather and we are making operating adjustments necessary to maintain the integrity of our facilities, including dams and water supplies,” UW General Manager Jim Glozzy said in a statement. “Now that the storm track has become more accurate, we will begin to lower reservoir levels to protect our dams and meet customer water supply needs.

“[W]e currently have an ample water supply and we are at the end of our peak season,” he said. “We would typically lower the water level at Woodcliff Lake Reservoir beginning on September 1. This decision enables us to protect the dam and still have a sufficient supply to meet our customers’ needs.”

Other preparations include testing backup generators, ensuring that drinking water storage facilities are full and having an extra supply of water treatment chemicals on hand, Glozzy said. Personnel “will be available around the clock to respond to any emergencies that might arise with the water supply,” he added.

Schroeder earlier today blasted United Water for not making public officials or citizens part of its plans for dealing with what he called “well-founded” concerns about Hurricane Irene’s potential for serious damage in Westwood and Hillsdale, even though Christie had already declared a state of emergency.

“I am appalled that our repeated requests have been ignored,” Schroeder said, echoing residents’ insistence that water be released now from it reservoirs to protect them from overflowing.

Given several floods caused this year by average storms, residents have been extremely anxious amid the hurricane forecasts.

UW, which supplies drinking water to 800,000 people in Bergen and Hudson counties, has itself said that it needs at least two days for a system of controlled releases to be effective, according to Karolina Marin, of the citizens action group Flood NO More.

She and several other residents in Westwood and Hillsdale have been pressing United Water to take measures to mitigate the flooding that has plagued their neighborhoods.

Earlier this week, they called upon several officials to intervene, and Schroeder stepped up. Area mayors joined the call for United Water to do a controlled water release in advance of the storm. Utility officials, in turn, had a closed meeting today, then invited government representatives to a briefing tomorrow in Haworth.

CLIFFVIEW PILOT obtained a copy of the invitation:

Please accept our invitation to attend an upcoming “Informational” meeting on the Storm Preparations.  United Water will be holding a meeting on Friday, August 26th from 9:00 AM -11:00 AM in Haworth in the auditorium of the Haworth Treatment Plant to discuss our plans and procedures to prepare for the storm.  United Water operations, key United Water management, Office of Emergency Management representatives and a few others will be in attendance.  We are asking that you respond and let us know if you will be attending.  Due to limited space no additional town officials or staff are included in this invitation.  If you cannot attend you may send a representative in your place.  However, due to security reasons we need to confirm everyone’s attendance. Please let us know if you are attending at your earliest convenience.

That, Schroeder said, was too late.

A letter from his Chief of Staff Lisa Yakomin to United Water earlier today re-emphasized his insistence that “an action plan is needed immediately,” and that the public and its representatives needed to be “informed as to what that plan is as soon as possible. Waiting until Friday morning for a briefing is not acceptable.”

“If a controlled release of water is to take place, it needs to be happening now, not days from now,” says the letter, a copy of which was obtained by CLIFFVIEW PILOT.

“No, we cannot stop a flood plain from flooding, but we can take every possible precaution and preventative measure to limit the impact of a severe storm–one that we know is on the way, and have plenty of time to prepare for, if we take immediate action.”

“For the past several days, I have urged United Water to take a proactive approach in response to the impending weather system that is forecast to hit our area this weekend,” the assemblyman said. “Unfortunately, United Water ignored our repeated requests to be included in the discussion as they considered what course of action, if any, the water company would take should the storm impact be severe.

“Advance planning is a key component of preparedness, and local officials should be included in that process.”

“We are carefully monitoring reservoir levels, stream flows, rainfall and position of the gates at our dams,” Glozzy said. “We consider all this information on an ongoing basis and adjust our operations accordingly. These decisions are based on operation and maintenance procedures accepted by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Dam Safety Division.”

Company officials are working with county and municipal officials to coordinate emergency preparation and response activities, Glozzy said.

“Preparing for hurricanes and other severe storms is a team effort,” he said. “We also recommend that our customers check their personal emergency preparedness plans. This includes ensuring that they have emergency supplies such as flashlights, batteries and food. While United Water will continue to do its best to keep the water flowing, we encourage our customers to store extra tap water in food-grade storage containers.”


Resident officially calls on mayors to protect area from Hurricane Irene floods

Wednesday, 24 August 2011 16:04 Jerry DeMarco

CLIFFVIEW PILOT HAS IT FIRST: A civic action group leader concerned about the ability of area reservoirs near Westwood and Hillsdale to withstand a blow this weekend from Hurricane Irene officially called on officials today to seek immediate answers from United Water and the state DEP.

Karolina Marin, Woodcliff Lake dam

The letter from Karolina Marin is addressed to Westwood Major John Birkner, along with the town’s OEM Coordinator Darren Blankenbush and Borough Administrator Robert S. Hoffmann, and to Hillsdale Mayor Max Arnowitz and state Assemblyman Bob Schroeder.

Civic group member wants pressure on United Water to release reservoir water before Hurricane Irene

Wednesday, 24 August 2011 05:48 Jerry DeMarco

CLIFFVIEW PILOT HAS IT FIRST: A member of a citizens action group battling United Water over flooding in Westwood and Hillsdale is urging her neighbors to seek an emergency declaration that reservoirs be partially emptied before Hurricane Irene begins tacking north.

Pamela Henkel Rivers of Westwood took this shot of her street in April

“If the projected path forecasts a rainfall here over 3 inches, it will be in a short period of time,” said Karolina Marin of Westwood, a member of the group Flood NO More. “Then at least, WE MUST be ready.”

And the rain comes down, as Valley residents brace for the worst

Monday, 15 August 2011 07:55 Jerry DeMarco

UPDATE: There’s little chance now that we’ll have any more rain before sun-up — good news for people in low-lying areas. For this night, folks along the Pascack Brook and below the Woodcliff Lake Reservoir can sleep tight.

Woodcliff Lake Reservoir (Photo by TOM SMITH)

It’s a peaceful end to what, for some, had been a nerve-wracking extended weekend.

The sirens in Westwood sounded at precisely 5:02 p.m. Monday, amid a torrent of rain and an expected flood of water released from the Woodcliff Lake reservoir, which had already crested before the first drops fell this evening.

Protestors call on United Water to control Pascack Valley flooding

Monday, 01 August 2011 20:15 Jerry DeMarco

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A quartet of floods over a little more than three months this year destroyed hot water heaters, furnaces, and personal property, members of the Flood No More group said during a protest late Monday afternoon outside United Water’s Old Hook Road headquarters in Harrington Park.

The scene Monday on Old Hook in Harrington Park (CLIFFVIEW PILOT PHOTO)

Warnings of controlled releases of excess reservoir water by the utility before a storm have come within no longer than 15 minutes — hardly enough time to move their cars and take steps to protect their valuables — during a series of floods that began in March, the protestors said.

Even worse, they said, those releases haven’t exactly been controlled but more like torrents.

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