The turning of the screws

Reacting to rapidly receding water levels at Cooper Lake in Woodstock – soon to be renamed Cooper Pond – the Kingston Water Department has gone to Defcon-2 in response to user indifference to an earlier warning of looming drought conditions and with it a series of water saving measures.

But, according to a department press release, there was no discernable decrease in water usage after the first warning (Defcon-1) was issued two weeks ago. The department, with its sophisticated metering system, can track overall usage fairly accurately. With that tool, they can probably also monitor individual meter usage. The whole, after all, is the sum of its parts.

Defcon-2 warned that if people don’t stop wasting water, they may face loss of services. Really?

That said, I don’t think the department’s playing chicken with its users is the best strategy. We can live without food, sex, gasoline, even cats and dogs, but water? The notion that any water board would even think of shutting off the faucets is downright scary.

Better to emphasize conservation, especially among major users. Tightening the spigot on foreign users, like the town of Ulster, was a positive step.  Interestingly, the town ordered water restrictions before the city did.

One might ask just who are these water board people who make these rules. They are our neighbors, regular folks who volunteer their time and talent for the good of the city. They operate within a more than century-old conservative culture that makes water preservation and transmission Job. 1. Anything, anyone, who abuses that system is a threat.

Kingston’s 1896 charter created an independent water board in order to mitigate political interference. The board only comes to the city for bonding authority.

Board members are appointed by the mayor. None are elected, which raises the question, just where are our elected officials, the mayor, alderwoman at-large and nine members of the common council, on this? Their constituents are being threatened with loss of life’s most vital necessity and they remain silent?

However ham-handed the messaging, the threat of a drought is real enough. A once-in- several generations high summer period of sustained temperatures and minimal, if torrential, rainfall, has created the conditions the water board is trying to address.

The water board has laid out common sense water-saving measures for individuals and businesses. We should do it all, and not just during drought conditions.

And it’s not like the water board hasn’t anticipated some of the threats to its system. Plans for a million-dollar connection to the New York City-owned Ashokan Reservoir have been in the hopper for years. A 10-foot addition to the Cooper Lake dam took years to design and finance but is now under construction.

Too little might not apply in this particular crisis, but too late?

We will get through this. The skies will open up and we will curse the rain and mud. Cooper Lake will fill up again. 

In the meantime, let’s act like responsible water users – small sacrifices can produce big results – before somebody pulls the plug.

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DUELING EXECUTIVES – It would seem that in the race to choose our next member of congress, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I refer to the special election next Tuesday between county executives Marc Molinaro, Republican of Dutchess, and Pat Ryan, Democrat of Ulster.

Molinaro was getting some political mileage after promoting a 10 percent property tax reduction in his 2022 budget last December, shortly after he announced for congress. At first, Ulster Democrats poo-pooed it as just politics. But after Ulster’s Pat Ryan announced in May, Democratic internal polling, I’m told, showed that the Molinaro tax cut had resonance among down-trodden property owners.

And so, Ryan, just weeks away from his Aug. 23 day of reckoning with Molinaro, put forth his own tax relief plan. He will propose a $3 million reduction in the 2023 Ulster budget. Before supporters carry Ryan out of the county office building on their shoulders, keep in mind that the executive plans to finance the $3 million tax break from an $85 million “unincumbered” fund balance. In other words, cash. Big deal.

Both are guilty of shameless politicking, but Ryan’s reduction, coming so close to the election, will have more impact than Molinaro’s even if only a third of a loaf.