Poughkeepsie… “We have been very focused in our efforts to ensure groundwater safety in Dutchess County. As Dutchess County Government prepares to launch the latest component of our groundwater protection strategy, I am also pleased to see groundwater protection strategy efforts happening at many levels of government. It is so important we continue to raise public awareness and encourage families to do private well water testing for their homes,” said County Executive Steinhaus.
County Executive Steinhaus’ key priority has always been to ensure safe drinking water for the families of Dutchess County, without subjecting them to expensive mandates. As part of the County’s ongoing groundwater protection strategy, County Executive Steinhaus and Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Caldwell are currently preparing to announce Phase One of the multi-phased implementation for the Comprehensive Countywide Private Well Water Testing Initiative. It was in February when County Executive Steinhaus directed the Health Department to develop the newest initiative which is expected to be an ongoing county program.
The Comprehensive Countywide Private Well Water Testing Initiative will feature the following core principles:
New York State certified, licensed laboratories to collect and test samples.
Dutchess County Health Department to administer the test data.
Countywide, science based selection of well sources.
No fee to homeowners.
This initiative will be a countywide effort to provide data which will be used in conjunction with existing databases of water test data to determine if there is evidence of groundwater contamination. The data will be compared with the Public Water Supply database, information from private test wells in subdivisions and the NYS Attorney General/NYS Department of Environmental Conservation joint methyl tert-butyl ether testing program.
“The Comprehensive Countywide Private Well Water Testing Initiative is the continuation in a series of important strategies we have launched over many years in our groundwater protection efforts. We have committed substantial County resources for this program with no direct personal cost to participating homeowners,” said County Executive Steinhaus.
Extensive work has been done to protect local groundwater supply through Dutchess County’s current groundwater protection programs.
The County has set minimum acceptable requirements for the location, construction and abandonment of water wells. As part of the permit process, information is collected on the well depth, strata and quantity during the permit process, resulting in accumulated well log information on 11,000 private wells all across Dutchess County.
All subdivision plan reviews require the drilling and testing of monitoring wells to insure an adequate quantity and quality of safe drinking water. This serves to protect the drinking water quality of private homes and again predated New York State regulations by 10 years. Since its inception, county government has reviewed 252 subdivisions greater than 2 lots with individual wells that require monitoring (test) wells – a total of more than 3,100 lots. Tests include bacteriological test, inorganic chemicals, organic chemicals and adequate quantity of the water supply (5 gallons per minute of water).
More than a decade ago, the Health Department began to require organic testing for public water supplies, including testing for the gasoline additive, methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE). Treatment systems were required to be installed where needed. This proactive Dutchess regulation predated New York State requirements by three years. Similar MTBE testing recommendations were made to private wells.
Over six years ago, County Executive Steinhaus announced the creation of the Dutchess County Safe Drinking Water Enhancement Program. The program took advantage of State funding to expand the Health Department’s ability to monitor, protect and ensure the continued safety of the County’s drinking water by expanding the sampling of public water supplies including well water from ground sources, increasing the frequency of on-site inspections, identifying vulnerable sources of water, and reviewing plans for new and modified supplies. The Health Department also expanded its sampling program by testing for a wider range of chemical contaminants, monitoring supplies formerly outside its jurisdiction, and complete annual reviews of all systems which utilize treatment for biological disinfection, or the removal of chemical contaminants encompassing more than 700 public water systems including over 1500 wells spread across Dutchess that are drawing ground water.
County Executive Steinhaus has also long been a champion of public information distribution about the importance of drinking water safety. 200,000 countywide mailings including “Safe Drinking … It’s Everyone’s Responsibility,” have been sent out to all county residents in 2002 and 2004. In 2006, another countywide mailing to 100,000 households “Safe Drinking Water, What consumers need to know & steps you take” was sent out. In addition, 10,000 mailings were sent to property owners in East Fishkill to explain the importance of having their wells tested in recognition of contamination issues in that locality.
The Comprehensive Countywide Private Well Water Testing Initiative will have a similar public awareness outreach effort. County Executive Steinhaus and Dr. Michael Caldwell will reach out to residents with a broad direct mail, website information and other information distribution.
In January this year, County Executive Steinhaus sent a letter to all 30 local governments discussing current water testing programs including the Dutchess County Safe Drinking Water Enhancement Program. The letter provided a sample template for local leaders to use should they choose to enact local town laws requiring mandatory private well water testing in their communities. To date, three towns out of the 30 local governments have chosen to enact such laws and each of the three has adopted a version of the law which they believe to be necessary and appropriate for the unique needs of their individual communities.
Steinhaus continued, “As I have said in the past, I do not believe a “one size fits all” mandate from county government is the best way to address the issue of well water quality. The individual municipalities that make up Dutchess County are very different…Milan is not the same as Fishkill, Amenia has not had the development Hyde Park has experienced. We even see the differences among the towns of East Fishkill, Fishkill and Wappinger – the well testing laws each town has passed have significant differences.”
“Our Comprehensive Countywide Private Well Water Testing Initiative will be a countywide, science based program that will encompass well water data from communities and neighborhoods across the county at no direct personal cost to homeowners so we can continue to enhance and improve our countywide data on water quality,” concluded County Executive Steinhaus.
A formal announcement of the Comprehensive Countywide Private Well Water Testing Initiative with complete details about the programs and how residents can volunteer to participate will be made in mid-September.