Mar 6, 2019 | Hydrologic Considerations Re. Global Partners – Hydrogeologist, Paul A. Rubin
414 E. Kelley Corners Rd.
Tivoli, NY 12583
To: The Town of Livingston Planning Board
RE: Hydrologic Considerations Regarding Global Partners Proposed Alltown Café and Market with Gas and Diesel Fuel Island; Town of Livingston, New York
by Paul A. Rubin
HydroQuest, an environmental consulting firm, has been retained by Elizabeth and Alfred Scott, neighboring property owners of the Rockridge Stud Farm, to review and evaluate hydrologic and hydrogeologic aspects of Global Partners proposed café market with gas and diesel fuel island in the Town of Livingston, NY. Our initial review indicates that project approval would jeopardize the quality of groundwater, surface water, and numerous wetlands. Furthermore, as discussed below, the highest and best use of the project parcel may be as a high yield water supply. Additional hydrogeologic and environmental investigation is recommended before further project consideration.
HydroQuest is a sole proprietorship, of which I am principal. I have over 37 years of professional hydrologic, geologic and hydrogeologic experience. This work includes providing expert advice relative to environmental risks to aquifers, surface water resources, ecosystems, individuals, and communities. My expert reports, affidavits, papers, presentations, and testimony have been provided in projects throughout NY, PA, NJ, MD, FL, AL, GA, TX, SC, VA and WV. They have been presented in court, at press conferences, as a panel member, and before the Governor’sexecutive staff, and the NYS Assembly and Senate, as well as before a delegation from thePeople’s Republic of China. A copy of my curriculum vitae is annexed hereto as Addendum A.
As an independent geologic and hydrologic consultant, HydroQuest provides hydrologic, geologic and hydrogeologic consulting services to environmental groups, Towns, business associations, law firms, and individuals. HydroQuest assists groups in identifying issues and developing strategies designed to protect groundwater and surface water resources, community safety, and wildlife habitat. This work includes assessments of land use and community character (Addendum A). One recent example of a land use related work project was commissioned by the Town of Mamakating: Hydrogeologic Study of the Town of Mamakating, Sullivan County, New York (Rubin and Beinkafner, 2017).  The study served as the foundation for development of the Town’s Comprehensive Plan.
1 Rubin, P.A. and Beinkafner, K.J., 2017, Hydrogeologic Study of the Town of Mamakating, Sullivan County, New York. Report documents groundwater and surface water resources throughout the town. Analysis included extensive field work, watershed and sub-basin delineation using high resolution imagery and digital elevation data, and GIS-based map production. The report includes numerous land userecommendations and formed the backbone of the Town’s development of a Comprehensive Plan.Commissioned by the Town of Mamakating; 36 pages plus 32 detailed GIS maps and figures.
In reviewing proposed project material, I have reviewed Global Partners Short Environmental Assessment Form, Part 1 – Project Information. This three-page form and its responses are not comprehensive in nature, as the topic areas do not cover many important environmental issues that are found on the Full Environmental Assessment Form, Part 2 – Identification of Potential Project Impacts. Understanding the limited nature of the short form, HydroQuest comments herein address deficiencies relative to the answer provided on the Short Form to item number 13.b. (with implications for storm water questions 17.a. and 17.b).
Alteration of Wetlands and Waterbodies
Short Form item 13.b. asks: “Would the proposed action physically alter, or encroach into, any existing wetland or waterbody?” The Global Partners response in NO.
The correct answer is YES. Incompletely treated storm water and septic waste may degrade groundwater and surface water quality and adversely impact numerous offsite wetlands and creeks (Figures 1 and 2). The project applicant plans to discharge site stormwater into the groundwater flow system via an infiltration basin and, during times of high runoff, to a swale from a pipe. Similarly, septic system pathogens would also be discharged into highly permeable onsite sediments from which they would rapidly migrate offsite to surface water receptors. Thus, physical alteration of onsite water quality may adversely impact offsite water quality, headwater wetlands, and ecosystems. The Short Form does not provide a reasonable means of assessing environmental impacts at any significant distance beyond the footprint of a project. As a result, offsite impacts to wetlands and waterbodies are not addressed within the broader physical and environmental setting present. As will be addressed below, environmental issues attendant to the proposed Global Partners project would benefit from the necessary “hard look” required under theState Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). This hard look would likely support denial of a special use permit because 100 percent contaminant treatment in the environmentally vulnerable site setting is unlikely. At the very least, the outstanding questions and data gaps would support a SEQRA positive declaration and the requirement to prepare a draft environmental impact statement.
Approval of the Alltown Café and Market without additional environmental review would likely result in 1) water quality degradation in offsite wetlands, 2) impairment of offsite wetland ecosystems, 3) degradation of offsite stream water quality, 4) degradation of onsite and offsite groundwater quality, and 5) potential loss of a high yield aquifer that could be important in the Town’s future. In fact, if rigorous hydrogeologic testing and analysis of the site were conducted, the Planning Board might well conclude that the highest and best use of the project site is as a high yield water supply source. With this understanding, it should be evident that approval of any potential high contaminant property use would not be prudent at the proposed site. To understand this assertion and correct answer to question 13.b., it is necessary to look at the geologic and hydrologic setting both beneath and away from the proposed Alltown Café and Market.
[FIGURE 1], [FIGURE 2]
Geology of the Alltown Café and Market Site and Surrounding Area
The Alltown project site is situated above glacial sediments, over an area of gravel and sand referred to as glacial outwash. This and other geologic deposits have been mapped by New York State Museum and other glacial geologists. Picture an enormous glacier receding away from the site area. As the ice front melts, large quantities of sand and pebbles (i.e., gravel) wash out and are deposited by glacial meltwater. Most small particulate material (i.e., silt and clay) is washed far away, leaving behind finely washed sand and gravel deposits. The pore spaces between these particles, like those between marbles in a jar, are interconnected and hold water – lots of water. Safe yields of hundreds of gallons per minute are common in glacial aquifers. This is the physical setting beneath the project site which is illustrated as the yellow area on Figure 1. Places where sand and gravel deposits are found are commonly prized and protected for their value as productive water sources. These unconfined aquifers are readily recharged by infiltrating rainwater and snowmelt, as well as by contaminants either on or within the ground surface above them (e.g., hydrocarbon-rich runoff from gas stations, septic leach fields). The vulnerability of sand and gravel aquifers is recognized in the Town of Livingston’s Master Plan Revision (pages 11 and 12):
“These deposits are the Town’s most productive groundwater sources. Sand and gravel deposits, however, are porous, so that pollution from overburdened septic systems, salt, waste disposal sites, chemical spills and other sources infiltrates quickly, making such deposits highly vulnerable to contamination.”
The Town of Livingston’s Master Plan Revision further addresses the vulnerability of sand and gravel aquifers:
Page 15: “Areas where sand and gravel overlie limestone are, therefore, the most productive, as well as the most vulnerable aquifers in Columbia County. Land use regulations should be designed to protect the quality of this important resource. ...In both the Elizaville and Bells Pond vicinities exist aquifers of unknown potential. Both are areas of sand and gravel in which little or no well data is available to determine yield potential. Both of these aquifers are kame, kame terrace, kame moraine, outwash or alluvium of unknown thickness or saturation.” [Kames are irregular, short ridges or hills of stratified glacial rock material deposited by streams flowing from glaciers.]
Pages 19 and 20: “Soils, overlying sand and gravel and/or limestone aquifers are usually highly permeable, and wells yield extensive quantities of water. These valuable resources, however, are very vulnerable to pollution or permanent loss. Although prime agricultural soils and aquifers do not present natural limitations on development, Livingston may wish to consider implementing protective measures on such features so appropriate forms of development may be permitted without negative impact. ... Livingston should take advantage of the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) as a means of obtaining detailed information regarding the impacts that proposed projects may have on environmentally sensitive resources. Where appropriate, Livingston can also use the information revealed through SEQRA as justification for withholding permission for development activities which will harm Livingston’s natural resources. ... Land use controls and development density limits should reflect the importance of protecting the aquifer system. Local officials should require thorough analysis of the hydrologic impact of any large development in order to ensure that adequate water supplies may be obtained without adversely affecting other water users.”
Recognition of the long-term value of these resources should be followed by protection afforded via zoning and comprehensive plans. For example, this protection scenario was recently embraced by the Town of Mamakating after HydroQuest and Mid-Hudson Geosciences completed a hydrogeologic study of the town (see footnote 1 above). As presented above, the 1990 Town of Livingston Master Plan Revision (MPR) recognized the importance of protecting the environment and water supply, including improving or developing water supply (MPR, p. 7).
Aquifer Permeability and Groundwater Seepage Velocity
The project site overlies a highly productive aquifer which forms the headwater recharge area to wetlands, groundwater, and streamflow.
The Global Partners’ site information provides little of the empirical hydrogeologic information that is essential in assessing potential adverse environmental impacts that may stem from project approval. While an effort is made to indicate that site contaminants will be adequately treated prior to infiltration into subsurface deposits on site, there is no discussion regarding the solubility or miscibility of hydrocarbons that will remain in solution after partial treatment. The remaining hydrocarbon-rich fraction of stormwater, and any untreated septage, will rapidly reach the site’s underlying groundwater flow system where it will be transported very short distances offsite to receptor wetlands, waterways, and wells. Whereas groundwater flow rates in many low permeability unconsolidated and fractured bedrock aquifers are slow, flow rates in sand and gravel aquifers can range from tens to thousands of feet per year. This is particularly important relative to the current proposal because the nearest wetlands are virtually adjacent to the project footprint.
Absent detailed hydrogeologic data and analysis specific to the site, we can make a reasonable assessment of groundwater flow rate beneath the site and offsite. First, we know that there is sufficient aquifer material thickness to support a high-yield aquifer. The thickness of the saturated aquifer beneath the proposed project site, which requires verification, is probably in the tens of feet – making it an important groundwater resource. Two nearby wells provide information on likely aquifer thickness. One, located near Hannaford, encountered bedrock at 41 feet (NYSDEC well records). The second well, immediately east of the proposed project site, is the Scott well (see location on Figure 2) that is completed in unconsolidated sand and gravel deposits at a depth of 37 feet below the ground surface.
There are key hydrogeologic factors required to determine the groundwater flow rate (i.e., seepage velocity). I will briefly examine them here without detailed definitions and unit explanations. Hydrogeologic texts provide ranges for permeability and effective porosity of sand and gravel aquifers (e.g., Driscoll, Fetter). Mid-range permeability values range between 100 gpd/ft2 and 1,000 gpd/ft2. Effective porosity values for sand and gravel aquifers range between 10 percent and 50 percent. I used 25 percent in my calculations. The other factor required is the hydraulic gradient of the groundwater surface. I approximated this value using a combination of Global Partners depth to groundwater found in percolation test holes and two-foot elevational contours derived from LiDAR sources (0.03). Using mid-range values, groundwater flow rates were found to vary between 2 ft/day and 16 ft/day. Even at a low groundwater flow rate, this groundwater velocity rate would quickly conduct miscible hydrocarbons and other partially treated contaminants to nearby wetlands, streams, down gradient wells, and creeks.
Global Partners application material includes some handwritten notes regarding percolation tests that may be used to calculate and confirm the high permeability of onsite Hoosic series soils (see Figures 1 and 2). High site percolation rates range from 4 in/hr to 92 in/hr. These values are consistent with USDA percolation values for Hoosic series soils that range from 2.0 in/hr to greater than 20 in/hr. This “somewhat excessively drained” (USDA) soil reflects the high permeability of the sand and gravel aquifer material and confirms the USDA’s listed classification of Hoosic based septic tank absorption fields as “Severe: poor filter”. The Town of Livingston’s Master Plan Revision (page 12) recognizes the risk to groundwater from development on Hoosic soils that are present on the proposed project site:
“Very rapid permeability causes a potential hazard of groundwater pollution from septic tank absorption fields.”
A Scott-owned house lies east across Route 9H from the proposed project site (Figure 2). The house dates back to 1882 or before. Its’ well is completed in the same highly transmissive sand and gravel aquifer as that which underlies the proposed project site, less than 250 feet away. A major concern is that project contaminants may be pulled into the pumping radius of this well. If the special use permit is not denied, I recommend that hydrogeologic investigation of the site be conducted prior to advancing the present project application. Testing should include an aquifer test using the Scott well, or nearby piezometer, as an observation well during testing.
Wetlands and Waterbodies
Numerous wetland and streams lie downgradient of the proposed project site. Figures 1 and 2 portray them. Any site contaminants that leave the project site would continue downstream of these wetlands, sequentially entering Mud Creek, Taghkanic Creek, Claverack Creek, Stockport Creek, and the Hudson River.
Stormwater and partially treated site contaminants from the proposed facility have a high likelihood of degrading both groundwater and surface water resources. The geologic setting of the proposed Alltown Café site is ill-suited for an enterprise that will generate miscible hydrocarbons and septic waste.
The hydrologic information provided in this report provides significant justification to deny the special use application before the Planning Board. Should the special use permit application not be denied, I recommend that additional site investigation work be conducted. For all practical purposes, the environmental consequences of approving a project site with significant contaminant risk potential over a high-yield aquifer that provides recharge to numerous wetlands and creeks requires more detailed assessment than has been conducted to date. The environmental issues attendant to such developments must be comprehensively evaluated relative to potential adverse environmental impacts and given the necessary “hard look” required under the StateEnvironmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).
As you are aware, NYSDEC’s Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF); Part 2 –Identification of Potential Project Impacts is routinely completed by lead agencies to help them inventory all potential resources that could be affected by a proposed project or action. This inventory allows the reviewing agency to properly evaluate the significance of environmental impacts to ascertain whether a negative or positive SEQRA environmental declaration is needed to ensure that the environmental resources of the town are protected. Some examples of Part 2 items of importance that relate to issues raised in this report include: 3. Impact on Surface Water, 4. Impact of Groundwater, and 7. Impact on Plants and Animals. In the event that the special use permit application is not denied, I recommend that consideration be given to obtaining the information required to complete this form as an initial step toward identifying and addressing the site-specific impacts that may arise from this project and complying with the SEQRA “hard look”standard for technical analysis of all pertinent ecological issues..
This report provides my professional/technical evaluation of a number of the issues raised on Part 2 of the FEAF. I have constructed two GIS maps to facilitate understanding of the issues raised. This report is provided in the context of rigorous scientific assessment as contemplated in the spirit of SEQRA. The issues brought forth provide important evidence that support either 1) denial of the special use application, or 2) a positive declaration of environmental impact under SEQRA and a comprehensive evaluation, complete with full public scoping and review, within the framework of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
The proposed project site sits atop a major sand and gravel aquifer that provides recharge to numerous wetlands and creeks. The project applicant has not conducted hydrogeologic investigation of the project site, characterized the underlying aquifer, produced a groundwater contour map, or addressed potential adverse environmental impacts to groundwater and surface water receptors. Importantly, Global Partners has not adequately demonstrated that their treatment procedure will remove 100 percent of all soluble hydrocarbon and other contaminants from their operation. Because of the solubility of gasoline, diesel, and oil, it is highly unlikely that the treatment steps proposed will preclude contamination of the underlying highly permeable aquifer. As such, I recommend that the special use permit be denied. The project site is ill-suited to any enterprise that involves significant quantities of chemical contaminants.
In the event that the special use permit is not denied, it is important to recognize that development projects designed to discharge partially treated stormwater and septic contaminants into the subsurface require detailed hydrogeologic, hydrologic, and environmental characterization – both onsite and offsite. This has not been conducted at the proposed Global Partners gas station site. The proposed project site is particularly vulnerable to contaminant inputs because it overlies a highly permeable, high-yield, sand and gravel aquifer that provides source water to numerous wetlands, as well as a number of creeks. Geologically and hydrologically, permeable glacial outwash sediments that underlie the project site are connected to other highly permeable glacial drift aquifers that should be protected from contamination (e.g., miscible, untreated, hydrocarbons). The project application would benefit from assessment of other alternative potential site development options, including as a water supply source for the Town of Livingston.
In the event that the special use permit is not denied, the proposed Global Partners gas station development proposal should be reviewed within both an onsite and offsite context. Evaluation of issues presented in this report, among others, justifies a positive declaration of significant environmental impact under SEQRA, requiring preparation of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
Paul A. Rubin