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Eastman Business Park needs a state permit to withdraw up to 54 million gallons of water a day from Lake Ontario.

Eastman park permit could set precedent 

Water is crucial to life, and to the rebirth of Eastman Business Park.

The park has a self-contained, specialized utilities system that depends on large quantities of water from Lake Ontario. RED-Rochester, which owns the park's utility system, has applied for a state permit to withdraw up to 54 million gallons of lake water per day to keep those utilities running.

Previously, the park's utility system didn't need a water withdrawal permit. But in 2011, a law passed that broadly regulates and restricts water withdrawals throughout New York. The purpose is to fulfill New York's commitment under a multi-state Great Lakes water conservation and protection pact.

RED-Rochester's application will be a test case of sorts. The company is one of the first industrial users to apply for a water withdrawal permit, and the application will set a precedent for future reviews and approvals, says Larry Levine, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council of New York.

Last Friday, a group of 18 state and local environmental and advocacy groups submitted a letter to the State Department of Environmental Conservation regarding RED-Rochester's application. NRDC took the lead on drafting the comments, though other signers include the state Sierra Club chapter and the Rochester Raging Grannies.

The organizations do not object to RED-Rochester withdrawing water from the lake, or to the amount of water the company wants. But they do have some big picture concerns about whether the permit application and DEC review process do enough to stress efficient water use.

"They're not really scrutinizing the applications," Levine says.

The organizations say they're worried that the DEC is treating the withdrawal permits as a formality. In the letter, they say RED-Rochester has laid out "a range of laudable water conservation measures." The DEC should, they say, make those efforts mandatory in the permit.

Those measures include identifying and addressing leaks, reducing fire protection system leaks, and working to help customers use water more efficiently, says RED-Rochester spokesperson Dave Lundy.

Applicants should also have to analyze alternative measures for conservation, the letter says. In RED-Rochester's case, it says, the company could evaluate the feasibility of installing a more water-efficient cooling system in the Eastman Business Park power plant.

DEC's press office did not respond to questions in time for this issue.

Local and state leaders say Eastman Business Park is critical to the Rochester region's economic growth. And they frequently say that the park's utilities system makes it attractive to industries. Lake Ontario water is used in the park's power plant; for high-pressure steam; and in the chilled, purified, and industrial water systems.

The park's economic importance isn't lost on environmental groups, Levine says, and they understand that the lake water is an important resource. But a vigorous withdrawal permit program could help make sure the resource isn't strained, he says, which in turn would benefit the park by ensuring a reliable water supply.

The organizations do not object to RED-Rochester withdrawing water from the lake, or to the amount of water the company wants. But they do have some big picture concerns about whether the permit application and DEC review process do enough to stress efficient water use.

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