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Friday, 23 September 2016 10:01

Keeping Up With Growth - Malta’s Water Woes

MALTA — The idyllic view of Saratoga Lake in winter doesn’t mean much if the house is on fire. Residents of Riley Cove in the Town of Malta would have to wait precious minutes while firefighters chop through ice if the tanker engine runs out of the water it brought. This neighborhood doesn’t have fire hydrants or even potable water. The wells are filled with sulfur and only drinkable if put through expensive filtration systems. And, it’s not the only neighborhood in Malta with water woes.

Generations ago, when these homes were not much more than summer camps, the lack of water was a livable nuisance, but with a growing town, strengthening economy, and year-round living, the town is asking whether it’s time to plan for town-wide water infrastructure.

“We’re asking the residents of the Town of Malta to take a moment to fill out a brief water survey,” said town supervisor Vince DeLucia. “So far, we are getting a good response. We did our best to keep it as brief as possible. And we had robo calls to encourage people to take the survey. The reason I did the voice over introducing myself quickly at the beginning is so people don’t think it’s an advertising cold call, otherwise they just hang up, so by immediately identifying who I am, hopefully they get involved with it rather than thinking it’s a scam or advertisement. They need to fill it out as soon as possible.”

Larry Tomaszewski is president of Riley Cove Corporation, a community along the edge of Saratoga Lake south of Malta Avenue Extension. There are 72 homes without town water because the community is too far from the piping. Tomaszewski is delighted the town is conducting a water survey.

“I just learned about this survey over the weekend,” said Tomaszewski. “I went to Town Hall and picked up about 20 hard copies of the survey. Some of our residents are older and not computer savvy, so I brought copies to them.”

Tomaszewski said his father bought the property 50 years ago, a time when access to town water was unthinkable. “I moved here permanently about 8 or 9 years ago, so we put in a well. A lot of us have wells, and almost every well I know of in this community is sulfur, so you have to have some kind of a treatment going on in your basement or garage. Some seasonal people draw water out of the lake, but you have to have it treated, you can’t drink it.”

He knows of one person who spent $27,000 on a water system, and others that just have a pipe running to the lake. Some in other neighborhoods have salt, and have to replace all the faucets in their homes periodically due to corrosion.

“We pay the same tax rate as everyone else, but have fewer services,” said Tomaszewski. “All we have is volunteer fire. So when they said they are doing this water survey, we jumped on it.”

Peter Shaw, chief of the Malta Ridge Volunteer Fire Company, said the company’s first-line trucks carry a minimum of 1,000 gallons of water, and if that runs out, they will draw from the closest water source, chopping ice if necessary, or rely on mutual aid agreements set up with neighboring fire houses to bring tankers of water. He described a system similar to a fireman’s brigade, but instead of buckets, it is made up of connected tankers between a water source and the fire.

“Believe me, doing a tanker shuttle is not our first choice,” said Shaw. “It’s something we rely on because there’s no water system in that area. If it were up to us, we’d love a hydrant in front of everyone’s house, at least every couple hundred feet or so. We would be very much in favor of a water system for the underdeveloped areas of town.”

Where would the water come from?

DeLucia said there are great existing sources of water through both public and private enterprises. The town’s role would be to find a way to get the infrastructure planned and built, and the existing companies would take care of the supply and delivery and maintenance.

“Riley Cove is a considerable distance from exit 11,” said Ed Hernandez, executive director of the Saratoga County Water Authority, “so it’s not a realistic option to connect it to county water.” The costs would be prohibitive for just a few neighborhoods, although he said there was enough water at that pipeline to serve all of Route 9 and other areas of the town. It would take a town-wide infrastructure to make accessing that county water line cost-effective.  

According to Marissa Mackay, executive vice president of Saratoga Water Services, Inc., a private company and public water utility, they’ve done feasibility studies on supplying water to Malta.

“This is very exciting for the residents of Malta,” said Mackay, whose grandfather founded the company. “I don’t think I’ve had a day in the last three years where we didn’t have an application for the extension of water service. It’s a very growing town. If you see a development going up in the town of Malta, they are on our service – provided they are on the east side of I-87. If Saratoga Water Services and the town can create a partnership, we’d be more than happy to work with them on our common ground of getting water to people. We have no surface water sources, it’s all aquifers, so we supply a very consistent water quality.”

Why take the water survey?

The Town of Malta’s water infrastructure has been built piecemeal over the years, development by development, but now DeLucia is looking at the town as a whole and exploring whether there is a better way. Building a well-planned town-wide water infrastructure that takes into account both commercial and residential growth, among other things, could be the most cost-effective way to meet the needs of neighborhoods like Riley Cove and business growth into the future.

“Water and sewer was something that the town board and I recognized was a big issue, especially in a few pockets of the community,” said DeLucia. “It came about as we started looking at changes in zoning for commercial purposes, and especially in this little hamlet called Maltaville that was having serious water issues.”

The town is looking into the interest of residents, the various sources of water that can be obtained, what grants are available, how sewer lines would connect to the county sewer line, and various funding sources. But it all begins with the survey.

“There’s a large part of Saratoga Lake that is not covered by the county’s sewer lines,” said Delucia. “The population at the time was not enough to warrant it. You are talking a lot of money to develop the infrastructure. We’re working both with the county and with Saratoga Water Services to see what can be done, and what the survey will do is identify which areas of the town of Malta seem to have the greatest needs.”

The town will seek out grants and state and federal funds to help offset the cost, but many grants base the amount they give on need, so the more people who fill out the survey, the better the survey results may be able to raise grant funds. DeLucia also said a public referendum would be needed to have the voters decide whether a bond is warranted, as well.

“I’m very sympathetic to folks who don’t have access to clean, potable water, such as in Riley Cove and Maltaville and others,” said DeLucia, “and we’re trying to do all that we can to hopefully be able to provide it while maintaining the various sources of water, and that means public and private.”

The town is not, however, interested in getting into the water business. DeLucia says the government's role is to help with infrastructure and big-picture planning.

“Our intent is not to try to take over any private water companies or sources,” emphasized DeLucia. “We’re concerned about the residents, and make no mistake, wherever clean water is available we have no intention of taking over private water companies. Rather, we’re hoping to provide the infrastructure in conjunction with all water sources, public and private. Infrastructure is the biggest cost.”

Developers and commercial enterprises can easily access water in Malta, they can afford it, but for those who bought property generations before town water was even thinkable, they may still have to go without for a long time, depending on whether the town residents can all come together to decide, once and for all, now is the time to finally, conceivably have drinkable water and fire hydrants for all.

The water survey is specifically for residents of the Town of Malta. If you are not sure if you are located in the town, check the map on the survey, which outlines the town’s boundaries. The survey is available at the town clerk’s office and online at www.malta-town.org under the heading, “Regarding the Robo call you recived.”

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