This is an important victory not only for Rockland County residents, who spent years fighting this expensive and unnecessary project to desalinate Hudson River water, but for people everywhere working for clean and affordable water. The desalination proposal showed how private companies controlling local water can prioritize their financial interests above the public good.
Years of Controversy
This is a big win, not least because of the timeline. Suez, a large multi-national corporation, has been using its financial and political clout to push the Hudson River desalination project since January 2007.
But it was a plan full of flaws from the get-go.
The circumstances: New York’s Public Service Commission ordered United Water (as Suez was formerly known in the area) to come up with a long-term water source. The primary water provider to homes and businesses in Rockland, Suez/United Water proposed a $150-million-plus project to draw and desalinate water from the Hudson River — which residents soon determined was not only too expensive, but unnecessary and even dangerous.
Suez would profit from the plant — but the plant would increase water rates for the local community and consume large amounts of energy. Not only that, but drawing water from the Hudson River comes with the risk of including radioactivity from the nearby nuclear power plant that discharges into the river.
Community members formed the Rockland Water Coalition to demand that Suez instead look to Rockland County’s plentiful natural water and better options — conservation, infrastructure improvements, better land use planning, watershed management, and more. And after years of action, they succeeded: the desalination program was officially rejected on December 17, 2015.
A Winning Strategy
The tenacious grassroots activism in the local community consisted of everything from packed public hearings to organized forums and rallies to massive petition deliveries. Food & Water Watch was happy to lend resources, fact sheets and ideas to this campaign, but the real oomph in this tremendous victory came from a dedicated group of community-based activists and groups united under the umbrella of the Rockland Water Coalition.
We’re so proud to have aided the Rockland Water Coalition in the fight to stop this unnecessary and dangerous plan. In the words of Food & Water Watch Senior Organizer Eric Weltman, “It was local activists who won this. They worked really hard. And by really hard, I mean REALLY HARD. This was a David vs. Goliath, the Rebel Alliance versus the Empire kind of campaign, and we should give endless praise to Peggy Kurtz, George Potanovic, Laurie Seeman and everyone else who was in the trenches for a long time fighting it.”
Years of hard work have paid off for Rockland County citizens, and their winning strategy is a fantastic precedent for other citizen groups across the country. These victories, which may take years of hard work and strategic dedication, are a testament to the power of staying informed and active in our communities.