Liberty New York Water has recently completed construction of a new water treatment system at the Gen Head Well Station following two years of work. The granular activated carbon treatment system will play a pivotal role in removing “forever chemicals,” microplastics and other undesirables from the area’s water supply.
The designing and construction of the treatment system began in 2020 when the area was still operated by New York American Water, as the Environmental Protection Agency and state governments were starting to crack down on forever chemicals that were, and unfortunately continue to be, endemic to the country’s water supply. John Kilpatrick, Liberty’s director of engineering, explained that they had begun the work before the new regulations had been rolled out.
The goal of the project, which cost a little under $3 million, was to remove chemical pollutants such as perfluorooctyl sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid, commonly referred to as PFO’s. The new regulations require there be no more than 10 parts chemicals per one trillion gallons of water.
Kilpatrick explained that these chemicals have been in local water systems for decades, and with growing awareness of the issue it was important for Liberty to get ahead of the problem and help address it.
“They’re like forever chemicals. I believe they show up in the blood of most people in the developed world, so they don’t break down easily and are very persistent,” Kilpatrick said. “In New York there’s really just a move to eliminate these chemicals from our environment.”
The chemicals will be removed using granular activated carbon, an advanced yet simple process designed to remove even the most microscopic traces. When the water comes out of the well it runs through four vessels, which hold roughly 40,000 pounds of carbon altogether.
As the water runs through the vessels, the chemicals adhere to the carbon while the cleaned water flows into the system. As the carbon carpet becomes more and more saturated Liberty’s engineers will eventually replace it as needed.
“We have the vessels set up in the lead leg formation, so it goes through one vessel and then goes through another treatment vessel after that,” Kilpatrick added. “So even when the carbon gets saturated we’ll know ahead of time and we’ll be able to change it so we’ll always be able to change it to ensure we’re providing water back to the distribution system that doesn’t have any levels of PFO’s in there.”
The new system can clean roughly two million gallons of water per day. Liberty will be monitoring the levels of perfluorooctyl sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid in the water system, and send monthly reports to the New York State Department of Health.
Kilpatrick added that the construction of the project also had to adhere to local requirements from stakeholders and residents so that the vessels wouldn’t be eyesores that ruined the aesthetics of the local community.
Agatha Nadel, a Glen Head resident who has been a long-time leader in the fight to communize the water district, said that while she appreciates the need to reduce the presence of forever chemicals in the water supply, the fact that it’s being done by a private company still comes with hidden costs for customers in the water district.
Nadel pointed out that with the private water model, all costs and expenses for projects like these also include a bottom line for profit, which will have to be footed by the customers. Because of this, customers in the water district will see the cost of their water bills, which she argues are already exorbitant, rise to cover the cost.
Nadel said that this is partly because, as a private water company, Liberty is unable to acquire state grants to offset the cost of the project.
Kilpatrick said this is something Liberty is working on to change.
With a public water district, Nadel argues, the focus will be to improve the quality of service in the district without taking extra money out of the pockets of customers.
“Anything being done by this private water is passed along to the ratepayers with a profit added into it,” Nadel explained. “It’s not coming out of their pockets. It’s coming out of ours.”
Kilpatrick confirmed that this would be the case. “Those water rates are made up of all of the capital and operational costs that we incur to run the district and to maintain all of the facilities that we have and to construct new facilities like this one to deal with new water quality regulations,” he added.