LOWVILLE — Water levels are slowly rising in the village after the 20-foot holding tank dipped below 12 feet on Thursday, causing a “water watch” to be upgraded to a “water warning” for residents and businesses, including the company believed to be causing the issue.
Some progress was made overnight with efforts to bring the tank back toward an acceptable level, which is normally at least 18 feet of water, although village authorities had not yet heard back from Kraft Heinz, Lowville’s largest water customer, about the issue.
“As of today, our tank is actually increasing but we’re still in the ‘warning’ zone. We’re hoping by Monday that we’ll be out of any water watch or anything,” Public Works Superintendent Paul Denise said Friday. “We’ve adjusted a few things where we’re getting more flow up to the 3 million gallon tank. We’re trying to do some different things ... we’re trying to make things work.”
On Thursday, Mr. Denise and Mayor Joseph Beagle spent the day at the filtration site to improve output speed where possible. A filtration bed will again get cleaned this weekend even though all four beds were cleaned to alleviate the water emergency in early September.
“The faster we pump water, the sooner the filters need to be cleaned,” Mr. Denise said. “It gets frustrating for us. We’re doing everything we can and it seems like Kraft isn’t helping at all.”
Kraft Heinz meets annually with village leadership so the two parties can share updates on water needs and water provision to avoid the problems like those that have been plaguing the system since July.
In the meeting earlier this year, the company informed the village that they would continue to use about 750,000 to 850,000 gallons of water daily but increased their use to about a million gallons per day beginning in July, without any communication with the village.
Kraft Heinz representatives have not answered repeated requests for information beginning in August about the issue, but Channel 7, WWNY-TV, reported on Wednesday that the company issued a statement saying their “production had increased due to the ongoing pandemic causing the increase of water consumption.”
In the same statement, company representatives also reportedly said they were “in close contact with village officials on this issue, and are implementing a variety of short-term measures, such as assessing our sanitizing systems, to conserve water.”
Mr. Denise, however, said he has not had any communication from Kraft and he knows nothing about any measures being taken. The only communications have been when the village calls the company locally, he added.
Earlier this year, the village targeted key groundwater sources on their property in the town of Watson as the first step in a project that could alleviate the problem.
“We are starting a water project next spring so that by the middle of next summer, depending on what the DEC says, we can draw from there, we might be able to withdraw 2.4 million (gallons),” Mr. Denise said. “With the wells, it’s going to be cleaner water so it won’t have to be filtered as much, so we’re going to be able to pump water faster to the village.”
The village’s current groundwater source has been cleared by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to produce 1.5 million gallons daily.
To discourage unnecessary overuse of water and to compensate the village for the extra expenses required to try to keep the water tank filled — using weekend crews to clean filter beds, for instance — the village intends to put a $5,000 surcharge in place for industrial customers using 900,000 gallons or more weekly and a $1,000 per day charge for those using at least 1.1 million gallons a day. The surcharges would increase by $500 for every 100,000 additional gallons of water used.
Although the village Board of Trustees is not legally required to hold a public hearing on the surcharges, a hearing is scheduled for Oct. 20.
Because of the high usage level that triggers the surcharge, it would only impact Kraft Heinz at this time.
According to Mr. Denise, all other water customers — residents in various municipalities, a hospital, a school district and all other manufactures and businesses — use about 350,000 gallons combined in 24 hours.
Kraft is not just the village’s most robust water user, they are the county’s largest employer and a substantial market for local milk producers, so a balance has to be found, according to both Mr. Beagle and Mr. Denise.
“Me being the superintendent, I’m here to look out for the village residents and it’s unfair for the residents to have to continue to be on these water watches and warnings because Kraft is depleting our water resources,” Mr. Denise said.
He hopes to find a way to convince Kraft Heinz to get the 200,000-gallon holding tank recommended by the state Department of Health in 2017, or potentially to engage county, state or federal authorities to see what resources are available to help.
At this point, Mr. Denise doesn’t know whether the level of water usage is Kraft’s new normal.
“Unless they came and said, ‘Hey Paul, we are going to pull a million gallons a day,’ and that’s going to be their new normal, but until I hear that from them as far as we’re concerned, they told us 750,000 to 850,000 gallons is what they would need,” Mr. Denise said.
The public hearing will be held at 4 p.m. Oct. 20, at the village offices, 5535 Bostwick St.