By DAN GUZEWICH Staff writer

DEAL MAY TAP NEW ACCESS — An agreement between the state Canal Corporation and the Mohawk Valley Water Authority will allow an increase in water use by the MVWA from the Hinckley Reservoir. (Sentinel file photo by John Clifford)

An agreement announced Wednesday could reopen the tap on water projects that have languished in recent years because of questions over how much water the Mohawk Valley Water Authority can use from Hinckley Reservoir.

The Mohawk Valley Water Authority and the state Canal Corp. have reached terms on access to Hinckley Reservoir, north of Utica. The authority can now take up to 32 million gallons a day, a 60 percent increase over the current daily consumption of about 20 million gallons.

Additionally, it is still to be determined if or when the Water Authority can ultimately withdraw up to 48.5 million gallons a day.

"This is good news for the western part of Oneida County," said County Legislator Howard J. Regner, R-2, Verona, yesterday afternoon when he learned of the agreement.

One project that’s nearly 10 years old would have piped water from Marcy to Oriskany and through the towns of Whitestown, Westmoreland, and Vernon before reaching the Town of Verona. The pipeline route was drawn up so that other areas could tap the line to for municipal water service.

The proposal dates back to 2003. Since then, Verona has been looking at other ways to obtain additional water, said Regner.

The town now buys water from the City of Oneida and routinely surpasses its daily quota. A major user is the Oneida Indian Nation’s Turning Stone Resort and Casino.

When questions arose about how much Hinckley water the authority was entitled to, the state Department of Environmental would not issue permits allowing the water authority to expand water service into new areas.

Water Authority Executive Director Patrick Becher said he hopes to meet with DEC officials soon to go over the agreement with them to see if it answers the agency’s concerns.

Some Town of Kirkland residents may also be interested in the agreement and DEC’s take on it. A stalled project there would have replaced some private wells in the vicinity of Route 5 with a water system.

"We will review the agreement and move forward from there," said DEC spokesman Stephen Litwhiler.

The reservoir, which sits on the Oneida-Herkimer boundary, supplies all the water for authority customers and powers downstream hydroelectric plants on the West Canada Creek and the canal system.

"I would say it could absolutely resurface," replied Becher when asked if the Verona project could come off the table if DEC is satisfied that the water quantity issue has been addressed.

The authority official also said the agreement should answer any questions about whether the authority could provide water to a computer wafer plant should one locate in Marcy — even though the site is already in an area served by the authority. Chip plants are heavy water users.

The authority’s sole water source is Hinckley, which is why the Canal Corp. is involved. The Canal Corp. has jurisdiction over the state-built Hinckley. Chief among the concerns has been whether Hinckley will have enough reserve to supply the authority’s existing service area in case of drought while still meeting the needs of the Canal Corp. Water from Hinckley is used to maintain levels on the Erie Canal.

Under the agreement reached before State Supreme Court Justice Samuel D. Hester, both the authority and Canal Corp. will jointly develop a new operating protocol for the reservoir. The Water Authority agreed to make any improvements to its infrastructure necessary for additional water withdrawals or necessary to expand its customer base.

The Canal Corp. will manage Hinckley levels under normal conditions but would work with other parties when the water levels are low.

"This is a major step forward for the people of Oneida County and the customers of the Mohawk Valley Water Authority, and for the Canal System as a whole," said Brian U. Stratton, director of the Canal Corp. "It is vitally important that the canal system adapt to a new and inclusive role which still has navigation at its core, but also accommodates the delivery of vital services to New Yorkers such as drinking water."

The settlement suspends a legal dispute between the state agency and the authority dating to 2005, when the authority initiated legal action regarding its rights to utilize Hinckley Reservoir water without the maintenance of the upstream reservoir required by a 1917 agreement. The issues of the former Gray Dam and "compensating flows" are addressed by the agreement.

A report to the court is due in the fall regarding progress in developing a new protocol for managing the reservoir, and again by December regarding the status of a final agreement.

Regardless of the outcome of these talks, Becher said the daily allotment of 32 million gallons will remain in effect.

He also said there are provisions in the agreement that cover concerns in Herkimer County about the the flow of water out of Hinckley into the West Canada Creek.