FORT COVINGTON - A representative of the New York State Department of Health reminded the Salmon River School board on Tuesday that recent upgrades to the schools water system were a quick fix and the system was living on borrowed time.
The Health Department has mandated that Salmon River find a replacement for its water system since the districts geothermal heating and cooling system leaked in 2010, contaminating the well water. The school has been working closely with the Department of Environmental Conservation to remove traces of acetone, a byproduct of ethanol breakdown, from the water since February.
A new water source may be accomplished by connecting to a municipal water treatment system or through development of a new district system. Either will carry a cost of $2.4 million, covered in the most recent version of the districts capital project.
The school district has implemented remedial measures while negotiating with nearby water districts Fort Covington and Akwesasne. The district is currently following state health standards, although just to be safe the school board continues to impose a bottled water mandate.
Health Department representative Susan Kennedy said that they will not allow the school to connect to Fort Covington until the town makes improvements in its water system. Salmon Riner school officials and Fort Covington town representatives have been in negotiations since June over the possibility of a full overhaul of the Fort Covington system. Town officials have been hesitant to go in with the school for grant money, citing the prospective rise in town residents water bills.
Ms. Kennedy made it very clear that the state considers the school board responsible for the water system and admonished the board for seven previous water orders from the Health Department over the past few years.
Im greatly concerned that your property is not capable of providing sanitary water. Ive never seen well water quality so poor, Ms. Kennedy said of the current water system. The treatment system has been, at best, barely adequate.
If Salmon River and Fort Covington are unable to come to an agreement, the school district has also been entertaining entering into a contract with the tribal council or creating a new water treatment facility it would manage itself.
Ms. Kennedy said she knew only good things about the reservations water system, but its outside her monitored area. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency monitors water on Native American reservations, with a regulation process similar to that used by the Health Department.
Current negotiations with the tribal council have been stalled because the EPA representative has been furloughed during the federal government shutdown. Until he returns to work, the board cannot tour the Akwesasne water district.
The school board will meet again with Fort Covington town officials on Oct. 23, after the vote on the districts capital project plan. No progress can be made on the water system until the school district receives approval for the project, which includes much-needed funding. While the current proposal has no local impact on taxpayers, an emergency project for the water system would impact the districts tax levy.
The $36.5 million project also includes renovations and improvements to the schools boilers, plumbing, roofs, ventilation, electrical system, exterior, classrooms throughout all three school buildings, the high school gymnasium and the bus garage; asbestos abatement; and field work.