Back on Aug. 17, Kingston Water Department Superintendent Judith Hansen declared a drought warning and asked for voluntary water conservation efforts, a request based on falling water levels at Cooper Lake, the Woodstock water body that serves as the city’s primary water supply. Now, as Cooper Lake’s supply is at just 50 percent of capacity, Hansen has declared a full-on drought emergency and imposed mandatory restrictions on water use that are already having an impact on city residents. According to Hansen, records show the lake’s at its lowest recorded level — back in 1964, the lake was 17 feet below average, but that occurred later in the year when drier whether is expected.
“This is as bad as I’ve ever seen it,” said Hansen, who has been with the Department since 1981. “And going back over the records, it’s never been this bad this early.”
The new restrictions include a ban on washing vehicles except at commercial operations which recycle at least 50 percent of their water, a ban on artificial water features like fountains and restrictions on watering on lawns and golf courses. Meanwhile, city officials are cutting back on water use for municipal operations, including, according to Department of Public Works Superintendent Mike Schupp, immediate suspension of street-cleaning operations.
Hansen blamed a near-total lack of snowfall over the winter, and a dry summer, at least in the Cooper Lake watershed, for the historically low water levels. Based on a regional average of about 4 inches of rainfall per month, the watershed is experiencing a deficit of about 15 inches this year.
“Between [the lack of snow over the winter] and the lack of rainfall, it has really put Kingston in a place I wish we weren’t.”
Tap into the city system
To deal with the drought, the city has applied to New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection for clearance to run a temporary pipeline from the lower basin of Ashokan Reservoir into a stream near Route 28 in Hurley which feeds a backup reservoir connected to Kingston’s water supply. According to Hansen, the city is currently working out “mechanical details” of the temporary pipeline. As a watershed municipality, Kingston has the right to draw water from the Ashokan, but DEP must sign off on the method used. Hansen said once approved, it would take about 24 days to lay an estimated one mile of pipe needed to tie in the two reservoir systems. A similar solution was implemented during droughts in 1957 and 1980, but according to Hansen, rains ended the drought before the connection was activated.