The New York State Canal Corporation and the Mohawk Valley Water Authority have reached an agreement suspending litigation between the parties and protecting the public drinking water supply in the Mohawk Valley, both parties announced Wednesday.
Under an interim settlement agreement, the Canal Corporation will manage Hinckley Reservoir levels above an elevation of 1,195 feet under normal conditions, and agreed the water authority has the right to take up to 50 cubic feet per second (32 million gallons per day) of water from the reservoir for its customers. The water authority agreed to make any improvements to its infrastructure necessary for these withdrawals, or necessary to expand its customer base.
Under the agreement reached before State Supreme Court Justice Samuel D. Hester, both parties also agreed to work together to develop a new operating protocol for the reservoir.
One of the goals of that effort will be determining if or when the water authority can ultimately withdraw up to 75 cubic feet per second (48.5 million gallons per day).
The settlement suspends a legal dispute between the corporation and the authority dating to 2005 when the Mohawk Valley Water Authority commenced legal action in the seeking of a declaratory judgment regarding their rights to utilize Hinckley Reservoir water without the maintenance of the upstream reservoir required by the original 1917 agreement.
“This agreement reinforces the fact that today’s canal system is more than just a navigable waterway, it also supports important services like drinking water, flood mitigation, hydroelectric power, irrigation, and recreation,” said Howard P. Milstein, chairman of the New York State Thruway Authority and Canal Corporation, in an news release. “We are pleased that the customers of the Mohawk Valley Water Authority can rest secure in the knowledge that they will have a reliable, adequate source of drinking water from Hinckley Reservoir for years to come.”
“We are extremely pleased to announce this agreement with the Canal Corporation, which puts the past behind us and allows us to work collaboratively toward the future. We can now continue our focus of supporting regional economic development and providing our customers with cost-effective, reliable and professional water services,” said Elis J. DeLia, chairman of the Mohawk Valley Water Authority, in a news release.
Assemblyman Marc Butler said during a telephone interview Wednesday evening he considered the agreement to be a “sell out.” “I don’t know who negotiated this agreement on behalf of the Canal Corporation, but they gave the Mohawk Valley Water Authority everything they have been seeking to obtain through the legislature and the courts the past several years,” he said. “To say this agreement is one-sided would be an understatement. The worst part of it is that this agreement will have a lasting negative impact on Herkimer County and everyone who lives along the West Canada Creek.”
Page 2 of 2 - The parties have been continuing a dialogue aimed at reconciling needs related to the management of Hinckley Reservoir. This included a working group of state and local stakeholders that was formed in 2007, which conducted eight meetings attended by members of the public and elected officials.
“We have said all along that it was possible to meet the needs of water supply to our customers, hydro-electric power generation and canal navigation concurrently,” said Patrick Becher, executive director of the Mohawk Valley Water Authority, in a news release. “This agreement reflects the willingness of both parties to find middle ground, and we look forward to continuing to work together with the Canal Corporation and our other partners in developing a new operating protocol for the reservoir which can meet everyone’s needs.”
“To me, it seems like the Canal Corporation, through this agreement, decided to fly the white flag. Seemingly, the Mohawk Valley Water Authority received everything they were seeking in court through this agreement. And when the authority talks about wanting to withdraw 48.5 million gallons of water per day or expanding its customer base they are talking about doing so for the benefit of western Oneida County. Herkimer County and the people who live along the West Canada will gain nothing from this. This agreement is nothing more than a sell out,” said Butler.
The interim agreement calls for both parties to report back to the court in the fall regarding the progress in developing a new protocol for managing the reservoir, and again by December regarding the status of a final agreement.