PATERSON — After more than a decade of not complying with federal environmental standards, local officials expect to start construction next year on the colossal $30 million replacement of the Levine Reservoir in Paterson.
Under the plan, two enclosed concrete storage tanks would be built in the reservoir’s footprint, each with a capacity for holding 2.5 million gallons of water. They would replace the open-air reservoir, one of a handful of its type still in operation, part of an antiquated system that officials say is among the most vulnerable drinking water sources in the country.
“It is critically important for public health and safety to replace the open reservoirs with enclosed water tanks,” said Passaic Valley Water Commission executive director Jim Mueller.
“PVWC is diligently working to achieve that goal,” Mueller added. “PVWC has already begun working on the advance components of the project such as construction of interconnections in the distribution system to allow the reservoir to be taken out.”
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The Levine project represents the first of three water safety initiatives, officials said. After enclosed tanks are built at the Levine site, the commission plans to move on to replacing its open New Street and Great Notch reservoirs.
More than 270,000 people in Paterson and surrounding towns experienced the vulnerability of the open reservoirs last year when flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida contaminated the New Street Reservoir, resulting in a six-week water supply disruption.
PVWC officials said at that time that future drinking water problems were inevitable if the three reservoirs remained open-air facilities.
Since the temporary New Street Reservoir shutdown, the water commission has undergone a change in leadership and critics of the enclosed tank construction have dropped their opposition. One of the obstacles had been questions over whether the enclosed water tanks could be built in keeping with the historical preservation construction requirements for the Great Falls area.
Mayor Andre Sayegh last year had spoken disparagingly about opponents of the enclosed tank plan, only to learn afterwards that the city’s historic preservation office was among the roadblocks. As a result, the mayor said he would intervene on the project’s behalf.
“I have fought for this project for several years and continue to fight until this project materializes,” Sayegh said on Wednesday. “Our residents deserve drinking water that is safe and sanitary and I will not rest until those tanks are installed at the Levine Reservoir.”
The water commission said it has six permit applications pending for the Levine Reservoir tank project, five of which are with the state Department of Environmental Protection and one with the Passaic County Planning Department.
The PVWC said it also submitted its reservoir plans to the Paterson planning board in early June for a non-binding “courtesy review.” The city didn’t make any recommendations for changes, the commission said.
“We’re supporting this,” said Paterson Economic Development Director Michael Powell, who oversees the planning department. “We’re moving forward.”
Bob Guarasci, executive of the New Jersey Community Development Corporation nonprofit group, had been among the early opponents of the tank plan. Guarasci said concessions that the water commission made as part of an agreement with the DEP made the project “more palatable.”
In particular, Guarasci cited repairs the commission agreed to make on two buildings in the Mary Ellen Kramer Park area near the Great Falls and a $2 million investment towards restoration of the raceways, the man-made canals used many decades ago by industries in the area to get power from the waters of the Passaic River.
Mueller, the PVWC director, said the commission likely would begin seeking construction bids on the project by the spring.
“PVWC remains firmly committed to the plan to replace the open reservoirs with enclosed water tanks,” Mueller said. “Numerous studies have concluded this approach is the most cost-effective method to ensure clean, quality drinking water for our customers.”
Joe Malinconico is editor of Paterson Press. Email: [email protected]