‘Help us fix it’

Tupper Lake trustee asks Hochul for help with water woes

TUPPER LAKE — As village leaders indicate that they’d like to leave the expensive and unfinished headache of a well water project in the past and try to source clean drinking water from lakes again, one trustee is begging Gov. Kathy Hochul to visit Tupper Lake and bring state engineers, money and attention to the issue.

Trustee Ron LaScala put out what he described as a “call for help” at a budget meeting on Thursday, inviting the governor up to visit the well site, see the drinking water tinted brown from iron and talk with village officials about solutions.

“Help us fix it,” LaScala said. “We need state help.”

Last month, the village approved a $10.80 increase per month for water rates in the town and village as it starts to pay off $7.3 million in debt accrued through various water projects. This was a 50% rise in costs for village ratepayers and a 38% rise for town ratepayers.

LaScala is the board’s Water Department liaison. He said the situation is becoming “unbearable and unaffordable.” The village hasn’t had acceptable clean drinking water in over a decade, he said.

Low-interest loans won’t be enough, he added. The village is too small to do it on its own.

The village has spent millions of dollars on digging these wells and it hasn’t worked out. There is iron in the water and the wells don’t produce enough water as they are, according to Water Department Superintendent Mark Robillard. It would take millions more to make them workable, LaScala said, and he’s skeptical if that would even work.

LaScala said he’s “done with wells.” He wants to abandon the wells and switch to an ultrafiltration plant drawing water from Big Tupper Lake. The village is in a hole, he said, and the best way to get out of a hole is to “stop digging a hole” — that proverbial hole being the wells.

He feels the lake is a sure thing.

Village Mayor Paul Maroun said the village is getting iron from its wells but was getting cancer-causing byproducts from treating lakewater, which is why they needed to improve their water sourcing system in the first place.

Trustee Jason McClain said with the wells, he thinks iron is all but guaranteed. With the lake, he said there are fewer variables.

“Tupper Lake is surrounded by iron,” LaScala said.

He said engineers have told the village that as climate change causes periods of drought, that can leach more iron into the water. Maroun said the iron levels in the water have been increasing in the past two years.

The iron in the well water has stained toilets and showers across town, LaScala said, and has likely caused lots of money in damage to hot water heaters.

The wells are also not producing enough water, so the village is blending well water with water drawn from a pond, which still produces the byproducts the village was initially called out for, LaScala said. He said the health notices the village sends out about these byproducts feel like a surgeon general’s warning on a pack of cigarettes.

The water is safe to drink because the lead levels are not high enough to cause health problems in human consumption, but still, LaScala said putting a warning label on something doesn’t make it safe, and there is are potentially alternatives that don’t carry any health concerns.

“We’re asking people to pay for water they really shouldn’t drink,” he said.

When the village started the well project, Maroun said they were told wells were cheaper and safer. Now, they’ve put out for expensive additional work and still have unsatisfactory water. The initial $7 million project has ballooned into an $11 million project.

LaScala said he doesn’t feel misled by the state; the state’s recommendations just didn’t work.

“The science of groundwater filtration works everywhere else, but it really doesn’t here,” LaScala said.

He said chasing after wells isn’t working and is throwing good money after bad.

LaScala added that there’s a sort of deadline on the village getting acceptable drinking water. The village population is growing with new apartment complexes planned and the village is not getting enough water from its two existing wells. It will take two or three years to draw from lake, he estimates, but an unknown length of time and money to get the wells to produce clean water and enough of it.

Some village officials worry the state would penalize Tupper Lake if it abandons the well project it used grant money for. LaScala said the village shouldn’t be punished for following the state’s recommendations and requirements.

LaScala said he hopes Hochul recognizes Tupper Lake’s situation and is able to put resources into fixing it.

“If I didn’t have any hope, I wouldn’t have said anything,” he said.

He acknowledged that Hochul might not get a lot of votes in Tupper Lake, but he said there are still “souls” here. The state is spending a lot on tourism and recreation in the Adirondacks, he pointed out. He doesn’t oppose this, but he wants the state to prioritize where it spends its money.

It’s not exciting, but clean drinking water is a basic need, he said. Some Tupper Lakers are resorting to drinking bottled water, board members said.

LaScala said the project could get done fast if Hochul focuses on it. She’s the most powerful person in state government, he pointed out.


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