David Stone
Southpoint Park: are irrigation systems fouling public water supplies?
Southpoint Park: are irrigation systems fouling public water supplies?
File photo

So far, RIOC's treated fears about contaminated water fountains like a speed bump to be rolled past and forgotten. They tipped their hand with the ill-considered hiring of Healthy Building International Inc., a firm specializing in indoor environmental quality, to run tests, and ignoring serious questions from residents. Now, although that effort's been rejected by unnamed "health officials," we're nowhere near being out of the woods.

Friday afternoons are the prime time for government officials hoping to avoid scrutiny to drop bad news, like water balloons, out their press office windows. Fewer constituents are paying attention as the weekend spreads welcoming arms wide open, and hopefully, damaging information splashes quietly out of view. That's how RIOC announced its hiring of a virtual assassination squad to get rid of Charlie DeFino and the Roosevelt Island Youth Program, for example.

And they've done it twice now with water quality.

In spite of pleas for transparency from State Senator Jose Serrano and Common Council President Jeffrey Escobar, RIOC's late in the day press release contained little information and more dodging and feinting than Gayle Sayers (look it up) hitting the backfield at Soldier Field when his knees were still good.

It starts out, "Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation’s top priority is the safety and well-being of its residents and visitors," a dubious claim seasoned with pro forma gov-speak, setting a disappointing tone, right out of the chute.

The rest lacks basic details and ignores serious concerns raised by residents, Senator Serrano and RIRA President Escobar.

But that's the RIOC we know, capable of grand gestures, routinely reliable in its daily business, but a basket case of evasion, hunkering down in bunker mode in a crisis, essentially useless.

Residents are again left holding the bag.

You can read the full press release, such as it is, attached below, but you might want to save yourself the trouble of reading what's technically known as "...a buncha nuthin'."

RIOC's callous claim, "Preliminary results indicate that the water in drinking fountains poses no risk for continued use," is deceptive, straining to sell an unidentified bill of goods. The State agency has never disclosed what tests were being done and what they looked for.

Transparency Absent as RIOC's Water Quality Tests Are Wasted
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And there's also the issue of timing. That is, finding a condition, good or bad, today tells you nothing about what the situation was two weeks or two years ago. Periodic contamination from bacteria, viruses, fungi, insecticides and so forth can't be discovered retroactively, which is why RIOC's weirdly secret practices with water have become an issue.

RIOC offers no caveats at all, blithely dishing out unwarranted assurances of safety.

That's already failed behind closed doors as "health officials," again unidentified, directed RIOC to use a New York State certified laboratory instead of whatever the out of state firm they inexplicably hired used.

No details, no elaboration and, critically, no explanation of exactly what tests they're doing.

No tests are sufficient without a comprehensive look at RIOC's overall water quality practices.

As Escobar's letter reminds us, the water crisis was sparked by RIOC's shocking disclosure, early in June, that it had been supplying water unfit for human or animal consumption through a tap in Southpoint Park for years without notifying anyone.

The revelation came out as RIOC scrambled to wriggle free of a badly botched attempt by so far unidentified staff to shut down the Southpoint Cat Sanctuary, also late on a Friday afternoon. Suddenly, the State agency was concerned about the welfare of animals they'd gifted with non potable water for who knows how long.

Among questions still outstanding from that fiasco are 1) How long did RIOC know it was releasing contaminated water through a publicly available tap? 2) Who's responsible and what disciplinary actions were taken and when? 3) Why wasn't Wildlife Freedom Foundation warned before?

But the most serious concerns involve the management of irrigation systems, concerns RIOC has refused to address.

Simply put, regulations set out by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and on down to the local level with the City Department of Environmental Protection require anyone using in-ground irrigation systems, such as RIOC's, to have backflow prevention devices, installed and regularly certified by professionals, that protect public drinking water from contamination.

Ground water, under well-recognized and routine circumstances, can get sucked back into an irrigation system. The ground water is likely to contain wildlife feces, insecticides, fertilizers, available bacteria and viruses in the millions, essentially anything you might step in on a rainy day in the park. Except that the irrigation systems make every day a rainy day.

Backflow prevention devices prevent those contaminants from reaching drinking fountains and other unprotected public places.

Because, although repeatedly asked, RIOC refuses to tell the media and, ultimately, residents and visitors what, if any, backflow devices it uses, when and if they've been tested and certified, the core concern raised in the cat sanctuary fiasco remains completely unaddressed.

And that's a concern in itself because, as we're written before, people with nothing to hide don't hide anything.

RIOC's stiff resistance to disclosure should be a worry to everyone.

 

  1. RIOC Press Release 7/27/18 Water Fountains (88.9 KB)