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Batavia company seeks permit for water, faces opposition

By Joanne Beck

City and Town of Batavia and Genesee County officials have joined forces to oppose a request for water that could potentially affect the flow for area residents.

The three municipalities called upon environmental analyst Guillermo Saar of the state Department of Conservation to consider the burden a request --  to draw 715,600 gallons a day — would put on Batavia and Genesee County if granted. Seneca Power Partners, a company at 163 Cedar St., Batavia, with an unpaid debt of more than $1.5 million in back taxes, made the request through a permit application to DEC’s Division of Environmental Permits.

“The major users of the Well Field (Genesee County, Town of Batavia, and City of Batavia) oppose this application and seek to help Seneca Power Partners find an alternative means to access untreated water for their operations. The aquifer directly feeds the Batavia Water Treatment Plant (owned by Genesee County, and operated by the City of Batavia) as a major source of drinking water,” the letter stated. “While the Tonawanda Creek also contributes as a source of drinking water, the quality and turbidity of the Creek make it a much less desirable source. Any excess extraction of water from the aquifer will force the Batavia Water Treatment Plant to rely more heavily on the Creek, and that will, in turn, increase the cost of municipal water treatment and decrease sustainability.”

City Manager Rachael Tabelski was not given any advance warning about the request from Seneca Power Partners, she said.

“This application to tap into the aquifer was a surprise, and there was no previous conversation with the City about utilizing Well D,” she said to The Batavian Wednesday evening. “As the letter, you received stated, the aquifer is a protected natural resource that provides water to many residents and businesses and needs to be scrutinized at the highest levels for the best outcome for all parties.”

According to a letter sent by the three municipalities, the amount requested, 715,600 gallons per day is 75 times more water usage than the current average of 9,513 GPD. This will “burden the aquifer's ability to supply the Batavia Water Treatment Plant,” the letter states.

“The aquifer has seen historic low levels of source water in the last decade, a pattern that has not reversed itself,” it states.

Other supporting reasons for opposition is that Genesee County has issued water conservation notices to residents two years in a row, in June 2021 and again in July of this year. The notices warned that “the water level in the aquifer that feeds the City of Batavia Water Treatment Plant is approaching historic lows,” and “the deeper the water is below ground level the more inefficient the well pumps are..” It was the third consecutive year the county asked residents for a voluntary water restriction.

The City of Batavia Water Treatment Plant provides nearly 50 percent of the county's water needs. . Without an adequate source to supply the residential, agriculture, commercial and industrial users, they face the potential for water shortages, inadequate flows for fire suppression, and a risk of hydrological issues, the letter states. 

“In an emergency, if the county were to bring in water from other outside sources there would be an unknown hydrologic mix that could severely impact residents that have lead and galvanized pipes,” it states. “This could lead to a serious social injustice for the most economically disadvantaged citizens.” 

In the letter, it states that while the applicant claims that “they are operating in a socially responsible manner, their past activities indicate otherwise.” The company faced termination notices for water service in 2020 and 2021 for failure to pay its water bills, and is currently on the path to foreclosure of its plant and pipeline for failure to pay real property taxes since 2017. As of June 15 of this year, that tab is now at $1,528,402.32.

“How can we trust a company who blatantly ignores its water and tax bills with the responsibility to draw water from a protected aquifer?” the municipality leaders asked.

A final consideration is that Seneca Power Partners “has failed to consider other sources of water that would be more resilient and responsible." For example, O-AT-KA Milk Products, less than 100 yards away from the property line, discharges 1.0 mm gallons/day of non-contact water through its permit discharge and is “willing to entertain a discussion about rerouting a portion of this water to Seneca Power Partners.” As this is non-contact cooling water, it might be a suitable and more sustainable option to pursue, the letter stated.

“Therefore, and in light of the objections outlined above, we oppose the permit application to the DEC and ask that the DEC act in a manner to protect the aquifer and Batavia Water Treatment Plant,” it stated. 

The letter, signed by Tabelski, Genesee County Manager Matt Landers and Batavia Town Supervisor Gregory Post, was complemented by another letter sent by Genesee County Legislature and signed by Chairwoman Rochelle Stein.

Genesee County leaders are opposing the request due to a troubling trend of a declining water table; the misrepresentation by SPP of how the request would actually affect the city, town and county residents; and a request that is significantly higher than the historic daily average water use by SPP.

“Due to these three reasons listed above, Genesee County is strongly opposed to Seneca Power Partners’ direct well water withdrawal permit application,” Stein said. “We hope NYSDEC staff understands our position and puts the needs of an entire county above the interests of a private company.”

Press releases about this matter were sent out by the city and county around 4:15 p.m. and 5 p.m. Wednesday, respectively. Questions emailed to Landers and Stein were not answered Wednesday evening. Tabelski said that she would discuss some of the questions with the city attorney and also referred the matter to DEC. Emailed questions to DEC Regional 8 Director Tim Walsh were not answered as of Wednesday night.

See related article about the permit process for DEC.

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