Wells College has been providing water for the village of Aurora since the 1920s, but the water plant is old and needs to be replaced, college president Jonathan Gibralter said.
“The reason we had a water plant is because we owned most of the village,” Gibralter said. But over the years that has changed as Wells has sold many of its houses and commercial properties in the village. “Now, really the only thing that the Wells College water plant supplies water for, that’s relevant to Wells, is the main campus.”
Every morning the Wells water plant draws in 85,000 gallons of water from Cayuga Lake to filter and pump to the campus' water tower, and then the water also continues through the system and leaves the campus through a water main that feeds the rest of Aurora and its water tower, Gibralter explained.
“I want to make it clear that we’ve had no problems with our water plant, we reliably pump water every day, we reliably filter that water,” Gibralter said on Tuesday. “But the water plant is old, it’s 85 years old, and it needs to be replaced."
The main reason that Wells is working with Aurora to stop supplying the municipality's water is to create a more sustainable long-term water treatment plan for all parties involved, namely Wells College, the village, and the Inns of Aurora.
“I don’t want to have the long-term liability, nor can I afford the money that it’s going to cost to do all the remedies that are necessary,” Gibralter said, adding that village control of the water plant would make the facility eligible for grants that only municipalities can secure.
Fully renovating the Wells College water plant, which would need to be done eventually, and creating a new water intake pipe further out in the lake, so it can run 90-feet deep instead of 20-feet deep, to limit sediments drawn into the water system would cost millions, Gibralter explained.
“I think it could cost us millions of dollars for the pipe alone,” he said, “and we just can’t afford it.
Gibralter isn't expecting anything to go wrong or break down in the near future, but he'd rather work toward a new solution as opposed to continue to take a chance with the current water plant.
Together, Gibralter and Aurora Mayor Bonnie Apgar Bennett are “trying to find a joint solution,” Gibralter said.
He outlined three ideas that the college and the village are considering together. The first of these options involve continuing to renovate the Wells plant “and maybe down the road when more renovations are done, the village will lease it from us (for $1 per year) and we’ll pay for water just like anybody else,” Gibralter said.
A second plan could involve the village building its own water plant, and Wells would tie its system into that and pay for the water, Gibralter said.
A final possibility could involve tying into another municipality's water supply.
“This is a long process, this is something that doesn't happen in a hurry,” Bennett said, adding that a feasibility study would need to be done before deciding how the village will move forward with a new water solution.
Another issue facing Wells College and the village of Aurora is the prospect of harmful algal blooms, which Mayor Bennett mentioned in a village board meeting last Wednesday, Jan. 17.
“We’ve been informed by the department of health, Eileen O’Connor, that there has been evidence of harmful algae in Cayuga Lake,” Gibralter said, “and we need to be prepared for that."
Gibralter said a study is already underway and will tell Wells what kind of filter is needed in addition to their current system in order to filter out the harmful algae should it ever exceed the acceptable level.
The study itself costs $9,300, and the Inns of Aurora have contributed $3,100, and the village hopes to contribute their third, but are currently unable to at this time as the New York State Comptroller's Office prohibits a municipality from giving money to a private institution. This is an issue that the village's attorney, Thomas Blair, is working on with the comptroller's office.
In the meantime, Wells has moved forward with the study, and results should be available in 20 to 30 days, Gibralter said.
Wells and Aurora are working to get state and private help to offset the costs of whatever measures need to take place, and the plan is to have the system ready by July.
If the harmful algal blooms ever produced toxins that exceeded the acceptable threshold, the department of health would issue a no drink water order, and Gibralter said if that were to happen, they'd truck in bottled water if they had to, “but obviously the best, the safest, most secure thing that we can possibly do would be to have a filtration system in place,” he said.