Poughkeepsie Gets Cleaner-Water Shout-Out

Raise a tall glass (of water) to Poughkeepsie! Erin Brockovich’s new book, “Superman’s Not Coming,” calls for everyday citizens to speak up on community and environmental issues, including clean water. The famous activist highlights Poughkeepsie as an example of doing it right.

Brockovitch specifically praises Randy Alstadt, water plant administrator at the Poughkeepsie Water Treatment Facility. Alstadt, she says, acknowledged a water-treatment “fix” that was actually making things worse — and voluntarily corrected the process because it would be safer and healthier for residents.

Randy Alstadt

Here’s how Brockovich and co-author Suzanne Boothby describe Alstadt’s experience in Poughkeepsie:

The plant started using chloramines, a mixture of ammonia and chlorine, in 2000 to help control the amount of DBPs (disinfection byproducts) in the water to meet EPA regulations. It was a cheap fix that only required a chemical feed pump, a chemical storage tank, and the cost of the ammonia. At the time, Randy said he was satisfied with the low-cost solution, and if he encountered any future problems, he would explore alternatives.

As soon as the water plant turned on the chloramine, they started to see increased corrosion activity in the distribution system, along with gaskets failing—both at the plant and in customers’ homes. Randy’s customers reported brown water coming out of their taps, no matter how many times he flushed the distribution system. Health problems, such as skin and respiratory issues, showed up too.

“Right when we made the switch, we had people calling and complaining about skin rashes and breathing problems, and they said their houseplants were dying,” he told me.

He was not aware of the health effects at that time, and to be fair, we did not have as much information then as we have today. These issues are consistent with what I’ve seen in so many of the communities that use chloramine today. The difference is that not all water companies seem to be as self-aware and honest as Randy. The water board approached him repeatedly, frustrated with the continuing rust and corrosion in the system as well as the customer complaints, so he hired an outside engineer to study the system and find a better solution. In 2010, he stopped using ammonia altogether.

“As soon as we turned off the chloramine, the brown water went away,” he told me. So did the health complaints. The problem with chloramine, Randy said, is that it masks the problem of organics in the water. It doesn’t get rid of them and it forms even more byproducts, which are currently unregulated. We certainly don’t need more unknowns when it comes to treating our water. Since then, the Poughkeepsie plant has approved funding and finished building a new $18 million system using ozone and biologically activated filters to help remove organic material from the water. The new system not only eliminates the need for chloramines but also reduces the amount of chlorine needed to clean the water.

Chloramines cost the city about $25,000 a year, so a new multi-million-dollar system was a big ask.

“It’s a lot of money, but if there’s one customer out there suffering because of my water, that’s not right. I don’t agree with that,” Randy said. “Nobody likes to hear that it will cost more than a million dollars to make upgrades. But I think that the health effects of chloramine don’t justify using it. Once the cost of the upgrade is divided amongst all the customers, the monthly increase is typically not that great. It turns out to be about the price of a meal per month. I let customers know it’s for better quality water, and people can agree to that.”

Randy says he’s a salesman as much as a water treatment operator. It’s all about doing what’s right to get the best quality drinking water to his customers. Think about paying $2 for a bottle of water when Randy can make clean water at a cost of $1 per thousand gallons. Which would you choose?

The new ozone system has been up and running in Poughkeepsie since October 2016. Randy says the disinfection byproducts have gone down to about a third to a half of what they were, depending on the time of year. That’s effective in reducing DBPs and exactly the kind of numbers any operator would hope for. In addition, using ozone has also helped him reduce the amount of chlorine needed to clean the water. While PCBs remain a concern in his area, he says he’s never detected them at the plant.

Randy makes it look easy. He has integrity and used his common sense to provide the safest drinking water possible to his customers. I applaud his efforts and I hope that Poughkeepsie can stand as a model for more cities and towns that are still weighing their options.

Watch Randy explain how Poughkeepsie cleans its water here:

Via City of Poughkeepsie

Creating a New Community Resource in Poughkeepsie

Deepening our roots in the City of Poughkeepsie — and building upon our commitment to be an active partner in revitalizing the city’s Northside neighborhoods — an affiliate of The Scenic Hudson Land Trust has acquired two derelict manufacturing plants in the City of Poughkeepsie. We envision transforming these structures and the land around them into a vibrant community resource through an exciting adaptive reuse project. (Read the press release here.)

Scenic Hudson’s newly acquired property on Parker Avenue in Poughkeepsie.

Northside Junction, LLC, purchased the property and buildings at 58 Parker Avenue and 164 Garden Street. Current plans include creating workspace for our staff as well as outdoor parkland and public space for community gatherings, meetings, events and educational activities.

The buildings are adjacent to 3 projects in which Scenic Hudson has played leading roles to protect and reconnect local residents and visitors to nature and the Hudson Valley’s scenic beauty — Walkway Over the Hudson, the Fall Kill Creek and a proposed greenway along it, and the former CSX rail spur we acquired last year with Dutchess County, which plans to create a new 2.7-mile rail trail linking to the Dutchess Rail Trail.

The properties are located in Poughkeepsie’s Northside, where Scenic Hudson has been working with local partners on a number of initiatives to improve residents’ health, safety and quality of life — from conducting regular cleanups and re-envisioning Malcolm X Park to creating a new urban farm adjacent to Pershing Park.

Both buildings and land will require extensive remediation to remove asbestos and contamination. Our goal is to make the repurposed land and structures green and environmentally sustainable. We will be reaching out to community groups to brief them on the acquisition and seek their input about planning for the properties’ future uses. And we’ll continue evaluating options for the properties as the redevelopment process unfolds. 

The architecture firm MASS Design Group, which has worked with us on other revitalization efforts in downtown Poughkeepsie, is partnering on this project as well.

Poughkeepsie Rail Corridor Acquired for New Urban Trail

Taking the first step in creating a new trail that will link neighborhoods in the city and town of Poughkeepsie, Scenic Hudson has negotiated and funded the acquisition of 2.7 miles of a former rail corridor that passes through residential and commercial neighborhoods, as well as alongside Marist College, before ending near the Hudson River. In July, the Dutchess County Legislature voted unanimously to assume ownership of the corridor and to develop and maintain the new rail trail, which will enhance recreational and economic opportunities.

Site of future urban trail.

The rail corridor was acquired on December 11, 2019.

A former freight train spur that ceased operating in the early 1980s, the V-shaped corridor extends north from North Clinton Street in the city past the Mid-Hudson Regional Hospital to the future Hudson Heritage development (former Hudson River Psychiatric Hospital). From there, it turns back to the south, abutting Marist College before terminating near Kittredge Place in the city.

The trail will connect Poughkeepsie’s Northside neighborhoods to one another and other resources in the city and town, while providing recreational opportunities and future connections to the William R. Steinhaus Dutchess Rail Trail (which the corridor crosses) and the future Empire State Trail—all of which will help to improve residents’ quality of life and economic opportunity. The trail also will provide a safe way for Marist students and future Hudson Heritage residents to get into and out of the city and access the Dutchess Rail Trail, the developing Fall Kill Greenway and public space along the Hudson River.