Town of North Salem

Comprehensive Plan Committee

Meeting #2

March 27, 2008

7 p.m., The Annex



MEMBERS PRESENT:            John White, Chairman

                                                Martin Aronchick

                                                Katherine Daniels

                                                Charlotte Harris

                                                Pam Pooley

                                                Peter Wiederhorn


MEMBER ABSENT:            Drew Outhouse


OTHERS PRESENT:            Russell Urban-Mead, CPG, The Chazen Companies

                                                Liz Reeve, Town Board Liason

                                                Cynthia Curtis, Planning Board Chairwoman

Janice Will, Recording Secretary


Chairman White opened the March 27, 2008 Comprehensive Plan Committee meeting and introduced Russell Urban-Mead,  author of the municipal groundwater study.


The members first discussed a proposed meeting date calendar prepared by Chairman White.  There were some availability problems, and the Chairman said he would try to respond to requests for alternate dates.  It was decided to begin the Friday morning meetings at 8:30.


John announced that he posted the March 20 meeting minutes on the Town web site.


John said he recently received a notice regarding radiation in the water of the Sunset Ridge Water District, and he wanted to cover water issues at the meeting.  John said other areas have trouble with salt in their water, including Bogtown Road, the top of Hilltop Drive and Salem Center.  He then asked Russell to go over the groundwater report.


Russell explained that he is a hydrologist, adding that while most hydrologists seldom work on planning issues, he concentrates in that area.  He stated that he has worked for Putnam and Westchester Counties as well as some towns in Dutchess County, and it is exciting to work with communities who are concerned about water issues.


Russell said some important questions are how much water the Town has, how it should be managed/kept clean and how many people use it.  Russell stated that with septic systems, waste water is returned to the ground but at a poor, non-drinkable standard.  This is a reason why it is poor planning to try and put too many septic fields too close to wells.  He said re-

 charge rates work if septic systems are not too close together and larger individual parcels (or cluster-type developments) are needed for adequate dilution of water going back into the ground.  In districts with sewers, less water is needed to dilute waste water because it has already been through a sewage treatment plant.


Russell stated that in Westchester, Dutchess and Putnam Counties, he got data from streams during summer to provide an idea of how much waste water is re-charged.  The 3 counties have different soil types and experienced differences in precipitation also, both things used to calibrate the re-charge rate.  Russell said he used the information from those studies to look at North Salem.  North Salem has all 4 soil types (A through D), but mostly B and C.  He provided the following information about soil types:


Type A soil – 0f 40 in. of precipitation, 20 in. is absorbed.

Type B soil – 15 in. is absorbed.

Type C soil – 8 in. is absorbed.

Type D soil – very little is absorbed.


Martin Aronchick asked how innovative this type of data collection is.  


Russell replied that the methods are well-established, but it is a matter of application to translate into policy.  He added that the National Groundwater Association asked him to teach on the subject.


John said there are existing areas in Town ready to fail.  He stated that where water districts are dense, sewers and water treatment are needed.  He said that Lakeview, Croton Falls and Sunset are water districts.  Areas near them are not currently in the water districts, but perhaps they should be (Oak Ridge Road near Sunset, as an example).


Charlotte Harris said the possibility of town-wide well-testing was mentioned, and the Chairman said it should be done, as people don’t know what the quality of their water is.


Pam Pooley said a realtor told her that property owners must have their wells tested if they want to sell their property.


John said that was correct, but the required test doesn’t include radiological testing.


Regarding the Chairman’s suggestion that water districts be expanded, Cynthia Curtis said they should be concerned about drainage districts also, as one household’s water is not permitted to drain onto the property of another.


Russell said a modest amount of water pumped “over the line” doesn’t create problems, and he added that pumping tests can be used to check.  He stated that once re-charge rates are known, one can calculate the acreage needed per septic system.  He indicated a map in the report that shows some areas in Town where parcels are smaller than desirable with regard to the re-charge rate.  Russell said sampling wells for nitrates is a way of finding out if they are being impacted by septic systems.


John commented that nitrates come from manure and fertilizer also.


Russell said those sources are not factored in, because they can be handled with public education regarding best management practices.  He said only very large fertilized areas, i.e. golf courses and farms, have significant impact on groundwater. 


Peter Wiederhorn asked about the significance of well-depth, and Russell said it depends on location within the watershed.  He explained that a property at the bottom of a hill will have a shorter re-charge course.  He added that a location high within a watershed is always desirable, as everything runs downhill. 


Russell commented that emergent contaminants of concern today are those like caffeine, ibruprofen and birth control drugs, which get into aquifers by traveling from human bodies to septic systems and eventually beyond.


John said that half the wells in Town are “pounders” .


Russell explained that in the past, this type of well was slowly drilled by repeatedly dropping a weight and scooping out the debris.  This method of well-drilling doesn’t clog fractures, so a well may be terminated at 80 to 100 ft.  Currently, air-rotary rigs blow air in.  They can go much faster, but they clog small fractures, often making it necessary to drill deeper to achieve the same yield as a shallower pounder-type well.  He stated that some local fractures are large, and weathering creates gullies on the surface.  He indicated a map in his report that shows water-bearing fractures, which he said can be very helpful in choosing well sites, although domestic wells are always sited for convenience.  Russell commented that if one lives in a water district or has a business that will have a lot of water drainage, it is worth seeking a major fracture for a well.  He reminded the Members that groundwater always moves downhill.


Russell stated that, given the present population, acreage and re-charge rates (plus another 50% for businesses and schools), North Salem is using only a fraction of the re-charge capability, and there is plenty of water.  He said the planning issue would be dealing with proposals to over-develop small parcels.  He said that existing areas in Town that are more densely developed will not run out of water, but water quality may be a problem because of the concentration of septic systems.


Russell said that sewers are best/have less impact on the quality of well water in densely developed neighborhoods, but they are not economical.  He commented that if Peach Lake had sewers, their well-water and lake-water quality would be better.  The alternative is to bring in water, which is cheaper, so Peach Lake put in wells first.  He stated that waste-water collection and treatment systems are moving forward and becoming more economical. 


John commented that the DEP would probably prefer to see sewers put in, and Cynthia asked if they would help pay for installation of sewers.  The DEP is putting up $20 million for the Peach Lake sewer system.


Cynthia went on to say that in the past, subdivisions of fewer than 50 houses could be built with septic systems and wells, but larger ones were required to have common water and sewers.  Cynthia added that there are other types of systems available that should be looked into, and she wondered whether the decision is up to the County or individual towns.

Russell stated that he has seen a proposal for 60 houses with community septic. He explained that there would be a tank for solid waste and large leeching fields.  It was a concern that such large leeching fields would produce a lot of waste water in a small area.  Tests showed that the waste water would go below the fields, threatening aquifers.  A request was made for enhanced treatment between the tank and fields, and Russell said installation of a filter works very well. He added that the filters are a good option as long as maintenance/ replacement of the filters is enforced, and he asked how one sets up waste-water management districts where homeowners pay to maintain such a system.


Russell said the 50-house subdivision rule still exists, but it is not hard to get waivers for an assortment of reasons, and many developers are putting in central water but not sewers.


John said the CPC needs to look 10 years ahead to see what could possibly become of what is proposed.  He said the groundwater study is excellent, but its focus is on whether or not there is enough water and what the re-charge rate is. 


Pam said she has read that re-charge rates are lessening due to global warming, and she asked if Russell considered this in his study.


Russell said it was not factored in, but it would have required another ½-acre per lot if used in the study.  Regarding climate change, he stated that we are experiencing longer dry spells and stronger downpours.  He said that rainfall of less than 1 in. does the most good for aquifers, as downpours run off before they can be absorbed.  Russell commented that it’s not really known yet how climate change effects re-charge rates.  He stated that having 10% to 20% blacktop ruins streams, and at 30% re-charge is lost.  He added his opinion that North Salem’s groundwater is pretty robust and should be able to absorb climate changes.


Russell said Dutchess County has set up water-level gauging stations in 14 wells equipped with data chips that register changes in water levels.  With this information, one can tell whether rainfall is adequate to maintain the aquifer.  If rainfall is determined to be inadequate, water-use bans may be employed, i.e. no car-washing or watering of lawns, until the water situation improves.


Katherine Daniels asked how many such stations would be needed in North Salem, and Russell suggested 1 or 2 in areas of differing terrain.  He said the stations should be placed in unused wells and not too close to pumping wells. 


John asked what these stations would cost, and Russell replied that they would be $500-800.  He added that the main expense is in data management, handled either by automatic transfer of information via a solar panel and a cell-phone account or by having technicians go to the site and retrieve the data 2 to 3 times a year.


John said there are 2 unused wells in the Sunset Park water district at the bottom of the hill, and there 2 at the top of the hill in Joe Bohrdrum Park.


Cynthia said the Town sweeps up winter salt and sand and deposits it at Joe Bohrdrum Park.


Russell said the salt and sand should be re-used, adding that it can cost a town money to clean up well water made salty by the town.


John said the Town paid $700,000 to Salem Center, and Cynthia added that the Town also paid for drilling of new wells there.


With regard to current water demand, John commented that although Russell said there is no problem, there are 1 or 2 areas meriting concern.  He also brought up water quality, saying nitrates and salt have been discovered, but no one knows what else there might be.  John said the CPC should see what can be done differently in the future.


Russell said he wanted to summarize his report.  He stated that Cynthia and the Planning Board are doing a good job and making up for the defects in the Department of Health by watching pumping tests, adding that protocols are established which developers try to cheat. He said he viewed the Comprehensive Plan as providing guidance for the Planning Board.


Russell said his report recommended a minimum average parcel size, and the current rural density in Town exceeds what is recommended for Type B and C soil.  He stated that small sewage treatment districts would be smart in denser existing neighborhoods, and the DOH and DEC are looking at creative water/sewage management. 


Russell stated that road salt and water softeners contribute to groundwater contamination.  Regarding storm-water infiltration, best management practices as published by the State only recommend infiltration for A and B soils.  He said it is felt that C and D soils are so impervious that infiltration is not necessary, but in his opinion it is appropriate to ask developers for a certain amount of infiltration.  Russell recommended that the Town go beyond State requirements.


Cynthia said she agreed, and the Town should use the State as a guideline and then do more than is required.


Russell commented that this could be done via a zoning law, but John pointed out that to make laws stricter than the State, they must be supportable.  There would have to be SEQRA procedure and public hearings, and the plan would then be adopted by the Town Board.


Russell sand the Comprehensive Plan recommends action to the responsible parties. 


John stated that if the Comprehensive Plan recommended 3-acre parcels, the Town Board would then be asked to change the Zoning Ordinance to reflect that. 


Cynthia said storm water issues will be incorporated into the Planning Board’s site development plan review requirements.


Russell said that not knowing what will happen in the future, it should be recommended that the Town consider adopting a groundwater protection ordinance, which can be done through the zoning ordinance.  He suggested that there could be a general level of protection for the Town and stricter requirements for more sensitive areas, like well re-charge areas or a particular hamlet where everyone is on an individual well. 

Pam asked if the Comprehensive Plan could be so specific, and John said it can.  He stated that water is a good place to start, considering current problems and looking at the future.  He commented that they could consider using de-icing spray instead of salt on the roads.


Russell said any product you can use less of and/or leaves no residue is better.  He stated that de-icing spray is thin and doesn’t leave a residue.


John said he would ask Drew Outhouse to look into it.


Russell said he knows of a town where de-icing spray is used.  Temperature-sensors are mounted on the fronts of trucks that determine how much liquid to spray onto the road.  Asked if new equipment would be needed, Russell explained that trucks would also need to be converted by having mixers and spray bars installed on them.  He then asked if the CPC was preparing a survey to be sent to Town residents.


John said another organization (CRNS) did a mailing in the past, and it turned out that if such a survey is too long, people don’t respond.  He added that Supervisor Greenwood wants to have public meetings every 6 weeks, and he (John) thought a survey could be distributed there to better effect.   He said he wanted it to discuss water, explain the analysis and suggest people have their wells tested, perhaps at some sort of discount.


Cynthia said they should try not to scare people but, rather, pose the idea as helpful information.  She said maybe they could ask for volunteers to have their water tested.


Russell said he used a questionnaire in the past, and 15% is a good response rate.  He suggested the CPC might want to include other issues in the survey rather than distribute multiple surveys.


Charlotte suggested they might drum up interest at the Town meeting and then mail out the survey.


Peter asked who would pay for the water-testing, and Cynthia said the Town would pay.  When he asked what the testing would cost, Russell replied that the tests would run more than $200 each if results were wanted for the dozen or so most common contaminants and not just nitrates and chloride.


Katherine said Yorktown Labs has a $29 test and a $99 test, and Russell commented that he has used York Analytical of Connecticut.


Expressing his concern about radiation in water, John said people need to think in terms not only of what they drink and cook in, but also what their pets drink, what they make ice with, and what they shower in.


Russell commented that warm water magnifies problems in water.


Regarding the water districts with community wells, Peter asked what would happen if it was determined that the best place to dig a well was not within the district.


John responded that the Town could approve such a well through eminent domain.


Russell listed topics touched on at the meeting:

·   Should questionnaires be mailed town-wide or to specific areas where problems are suspected. 

·   The zoning ordinance.

·   Pumping test guideline document.

·   Key locations for water-level testing/40-45 days with no rain leads to an increase in well failures.

·   Pharmaceuticals and caffeine in water/good reason to keep septic far from wells. 


John asked if they shouldn’t establish baseline data including this information, but Russell responded that it would be extremely expensive.


Cynthia asked about sewage treatment plant updates, but Russell said there is no public funding for it yet.


Russell said geothermal well guidance is also very important and would be good to look into.


John commented that there are some in Town.  One at PQ failed, but there are 4 or 5 other, newer ones.  He explained that PQ’s failed because it was poorly built with bad pipes and no anti-freeze.  He suggested the CPC identify geothermal wells (both open and closed systems) as having future potential.


Commenting that it makes sense to endorse efficient technology, Russell returned to the list of meeting topics. 

·   Road salt guidance.

·   Water sampling and treatment/include radiological testing?


John said it is important to build a comprehensive plan that deals with big issues.  He added that he feels water is a scientifically easy issue to cover, as well as being an emotional issue.


Charlotte commented that it will be self-fulfilling; for example, water issues will impact development policy. 


John said Russell is under contract to do a lot of work for the CPC.  John stated that the CPC has a list of 30 wells for public water systems (gas stations, restaurants, etc.) that have been tested, and someone will need to go to the DOH and try to get the testing results. 


Charlotte said she would help. 


John said the next step would be to map the data from those tests.  He said it will be good to have this information in hand to help convince people to have their wells tested.  He said he wants to set a date for the next public meeting at which the CPC will present water topics.  John added that he would like to have a doctor, water-treatment person or someone from the DOH at the meeting, and he commented that Peter Farina is good.


Cynthia said the person to see at the DOH is Louise Doyle.


The members discussed the merits of recording some of the well test information while at the DOH versus copying entire reports.


John said he thought it better to photocopy everything and bring it back, and Cynthia said she has a portable scanner the CPC may use.


The members did not set a date for the public meeting at this time.


John thanked Russell and adjourned the meeting.


Respectfully submitted,






Janice Will, Recording Secretary