LOWVILLE — The water “emergency” continues in the village of Lowville and water customers in the surrounding towns, although some progress in refilling the three million gallon tank was made over the weekend.
Superintendent of Public Works Paul Denise said he and his crew worked all day on Saturday and Sunday in order to clean the filter in one of the four filtration beds at their water plant in an attempt to increase filtering speed.
“The filters need cleaning. The system has been operating at 100 percent capacity for so long because our largest manufacturer has been using so much water lately,” Mr. Denise said.
That “largest manufacturer,” Kraft Heinz, had reportedly said during 2017 negotiations with the village that it anticipated needing about 850,000 gallons of water daily after ramping up production of string cheese in addition to the cream cheese operation.
This year, however, that number has been over a million gallons.
“It’s crept up over the last six to eight months,” Mr. Denise said, “We don’t know what our biggest user’s procedures are down there, but we know they’re trying to make corrections so nothing like this happens again.”
Over the past week, Kraft Heinz has been using on average 1.13 million gallons of water daily and the village is only cleared and capable of filtering 1.5 million gallons daily according to a limit set by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
On Aug. 21., a valve at Kraft Heinz allegedly left open by an employee led to 600,000 gallons of water being dumped and making it impossible for the village to refill the tank as the company was using the water, combined with the dumping, faster than water could be filtered.
Because the company’s water usage is usually slower over the weekend, any deficit due to extra usage during the week is normally compensated on the weekend when the tank is brought back up to 18 feet.
At its lowest, on Friday, the tank dipped down below 9 feet of water, causing the emergency use declaration, the last level before a “boil water” order is issued.
Because Kraft Heinz is at full production during the week and has not committed to curtailing that to help make up for the extra water it wasted, tank water levels fluctuate during the week. Mr. Denise said to err on the side of caution, the emergency order will stay in place until the tank level reaches at least 12 feet, instead of the official 10-foot threshold, and will stay on a water watch until 14 feet of water are stored in the tank.
Although calls by Mayor Joseph Beagle for a meeting did not receive a response from Kraft Heinz, Mr. Denise said they were in contact on Monday morning and that there should be a meeting between the company and the village late this week.
Kraft Heinz officials did not respond to questions about whether or not they will take responsibility for the spill and the additional costs to the village tax payers or to curtail water use so that the emergency situation could be eradicated more quickly.