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The sale of Kingston's water

Por Andrés Martínez de Velasco
February 2015
Since the end of 2014 the citizens of Kingston, Ulster, and Woodstock have had a lot to worry about. The water bottling company Niagara Bottling Company, based in California, proposed to the department of water in Kingston to buy more than 25% of its water reserves (which come from Cooper lake, close to Woodstock) and proposed to the city of Ulster to construct an over 53 million dollar water bottling plant next to the industrial complex Tech City. These proposals carry with them a series of questions about the economic, environmental, social, and ecological impact that these projects will have.
Citizens of Woodstock are worried about the possibility that their water reserves will empty during dry spells; Ulster citizens are worried about the 260 buses that would leave the bottling plant daily; and Kingston residents ask themselves how it is possible that the department of water in their city could have left out an official letter expressing their intentions to approve the Niagara project without first reevaluating Lake Cooper’s capacity which hasn’t been updated since 1961. What’s more, these three populations ought to be worried about the 1.2 million liters of residual waters that the bottling plant would dump into the Esopus stream; for the 6.6 tons of garbage generated monthly by the plant, and for the air contamination which would come as a result of the water bottling manufacture.
The Niagara project would create around 120 new jobs and result in 16 million dollars in earnings for the city of Kingston, which could be used for renovating the infrastructure of the city without cost to Kingston’s residents. Also, Niagara has signed an agreement with SUNY Ulster which, by receiving tax exemptions in agreement with the economic development of Start-Up New York, would guarantee a certain number of jobs to its students.
Nevertheless, these benefits are not what they appear. According to information published by the civil organization Kingston Citizens, Niagara would create 120 basic jobs, paying 33% less than the industry standard and with a total daily water consumption of 6.6 million liters (MLD). By comparison, IBM managed to create 7000 high level jobs with only 3.78 MLD. Selling water to Niagara would eliminate the possibility that another company could establish itself in Ulster and create much more significant economy opportunities. For the worse, Niagara has a history of violating regulations over workers rights. And that’s because the fines are minimal in comparison with the profits, anywhere between 50 and 100 million dollars annually. For example, in May of 2008 the state of California fined Niagara with 30 million dollars for an illegal discharge of residual waters.
However, it’s not just because of Niagara’s conduct that the citizens of Kingston are worried. Their own office of public health sent a letter that they would extend service without first making an updated study of Lake Cooper which calculates the capacity for Kingston to satisfy Niagara’s consumption. This office supposes that the population of the city won’t grow (currently, a 1.1% annual growth has been documented), that the growth of current businesses would be minimal, and that Lake Cooper’s diminishing water level won’t have any impact on precipitation levels.
On the other hand, the citizens of Kingston are very annoyed because the evaluation process of the project was undertaken without first considering their opinion. Activist and Kingston Citizens member Jennifer Schwartz Berky comments that the Kingston office of public water has acted without consulting the primary groups and civil organizations of the city. She, along with many other citizens of Kingston, was surprised and upset upon reading in the Kingston Daily Freeman that the construction of the bottling plant would commence in February of 2015. Schwartz Becky says that the attitude of the Kingston and Ulster governors has been less than ideal, ignoring the citizens that they represent to accelerate a project which hasn’t been fully evaluated.
Currently, Niagara hasn’t received any economic incentive on behalf of the economic development programs of New York, such that it is possible for them to abandon the project and search for a more lucrative site. If Niagara confirms that it wishes to proceed with the project, the New York department of environmental conservation will realize a study of its environmental impact which would determine whether or not the construction and operation of their bottling plant is possible.
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*Translated into English by Sebastián Antón-Ojeda

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