Focused on Water System Renewal

Focused on Water System Renewal

Mike Hopf, the water superintendent for the Village of Saugerties, New York, drains a fire hydrant outside the village’s 3-million-gallon water storage tank. The village has made consistent improvements to its water treatment plant and distribution system. (Photography by Christopher Capozziello)

The Village of Saugerties is situated at the base of the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York.

The small community sits at the confluence of Esopus Creek and the Hudson River, and several streams rush down to feed the Blue Mountains Reservoir.

Water resources aren’t scarce here, but century-old infrastructure, seasonal spikes in demand and overlapping municipal boundaries present challenges of their own.

This is an old village. The name “Saugerties” is roughly the Dutch equivalent to “sawyers,” a tribute to various sawmills that were established on the local creek in the 1600s. The village was incorporated in 1831 under a different name before being changed to Saugerties in 1855.

Like other legacy systems in communities along the Hudson River, the Saugerties water system functions in a jumble of jurisdictions.

“We have some areas that are more troubling than others,” says Mike Hopf, the village’s water superintendent. “Some of the oldest parts are cast iron and probably date to the 1920s. We continue to have breaks and failures in the lines, but we have a program of regular infrastructure replacement. It’s ongoing.”

Hopf is a 31-year veteran of the water industry and has led the village water department for a decade. His predecessor had a similar emphasis on upgrading the village’s facilities and distribution system, so modernization of the system has been the department’s modus operandi for quite a while.

Municipal ties

The Village of Saugerties lies within the Town of Saugerties. They are separate entities, with the village having its own six-person board of trustees and mayor governing the roughly 2.5 square miles in the village. The separate town also has its own governing body — and both village and town are part of Ulster County.

This gets interesting when talking about water. A private company in the village began to supply water to residents way back in the 1880s, selling the water system to the village a decade later. Today, the village draws water from the Blue Mountain Reservoir, treats it and distributes it to some 4,500 village customers.

It also wholesales water to the Town of Saugerties, which distributes it to another 5,500 customers in three water districts — Kings Highway, Glasco and Malden. The first of these districts began to receive village water back in the 1950s. Today, the Town of Saugerties relies solely on the village for its potable water and, in fact, claims about 60% of the village’s total distribution.

“After we wholesale the water, the town has its own distribution system and employees and does its own water quality sampling. There’s a lot of redundancy,” Hopf says, noting that the idea of combining systems has come up but nothing has ever materialized.

Meeting demand

In addition to serving beyond municipal lines, the Village of Saugerties must also meet the demand of a robust seasonal tourism industry.

The upstate New York communities on the west side of the Hudson River attract crowds from surrounding metro areas. The village welcomes tens of thousands of visitors during summer months.

“People like to get a break from New York City, take a two-hour drive and spend a weekend here,” Hopf says, noting the area has nice shops and restaurants and a lighthouse at the end of a trail that people like to hike out and see. “Our demand goes up in the summer.”

Saugerties is also home to one of the biggest hunter/jumper horse shows in the country — the HITS-on-the-Hudson Grand Prix. In 2019, before COVID disrupted everything, the event featured eight weeks of shows with $3 million in prize money. Lots of water gets pumped to fill horse troughs, flush restroom facilities and meet the demands of local lodging.

HITS alone is enough to tax a water service company, but there are other seasonal attractions. The annual two-day Hudson Valley Garlic Festival can draw as many as 50,000 visitors, and a calendar full of other festivals and events keep water demand high throughout the warmer months.

The village’s summer water usage peaks at 1.2 mgd, about 300,000 gallons per day above off-season demand. That’s a major expansion of volume, but one that the village’s reservoir, backup storage and treatment plant have the capacity to handle.

And it doesn’t come at great expense to the locals. “Our rates are pretty good for the area,” Hopf says. A typical quarterly water (and wastewater) bill for a family of two in the village is about $100.

Keeping up

Making sure the systems function reliably for both residents and visitors alike falls on Hopf and his six employees.

The system includes two transmission mains — one 12- and one 16-inch — that run 5 miles from the plant to the village, while the distribution system is comprised of 4-, 6-, 8- and 10-inch lines.

Maintenance and upgrades are a continual focus of the crew. Some of the system rehab work is also handled in-house. Two fairly recent projects included the replacement of 1,500 feet of 8-inch PVC water main, a $30,000 undertaking, and about 500 feet of 6-inch main at a cost of $16,000. The last major water main replacement job by an outside contractor was more than a dozen years ago, according to Hopf. The next significant one will be bid out in the next couple years.

Any in-the-ground projects undertaken in-house rely on an excavation crew from the village’s Department of Public Works, with Hopf’s crew then installing the pipe, disinfecting and testing it. If a hydrovac truck is needed for flushing or uncovering a line, Public Works shares its rig with the department.

Besides keeping distribution lines intact, the village department maintains some 150 hydrants, annually budgeting $10,000 for replacement. A small number of valves are also replaced each year.

Leak detection is another critical function, especially with an aging distribution system. Hopf has equipment to do the job, but the village also works with its neighbors to share resources and expertise.

“We have a working relationship with some other municipalities. The Town of Ulster will correlate leaks for us, for example, and circuit riders from the New York Rural Water Association check leaks.”

Three years ago, two major leaks in the village system were discovered. One of them went unnoticed for quite a while because the leaking water was flowing into a creek. The two leaks combined resulted in the loss of some 80 gallons of water per minute.

Any repair work involving digging usually is undertaken between May and late November. Winter weather precludes much excavation during the coldest months. “It all depends on when the frost decides to come and when it decides to leave,” Hopf says. “This last winter was unusual. We had very little frost and you could excavate all year.”


Funding upgrades — even maintenance — for a village water system can be tricky, especially one that primarily serves residential customers and small retailers. The village has no big industrial clients, and the largest customer is a senior center with a few hundred residents.

“We have identified sections of the distribution system to be replaced, but unfortunately it often comes down to money. We bond out a job and when the bonds are paid back, it opens things up for another project,” Hopf says.

New York state does not help pay for new lines but has contributed to other projects in the village. The Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery paid for installation of rapid sand filters and other upgrades to the village’s water treatment plant. State funds some 20 years ago also paid for a 3-million-gallon storage tank. The tank gives the system about three days of emergency water in the event water flow from the reservoir and treatment plant is disrupted.

The state also is funding the village’s search for an auxiliary water source in the event the reservoir becomes polluted for a short time because of either a natural or man-made disaster. It might seem odd that a community situated on the banks of the Hudson River would need to search for a water source, especially since many communities draw Hudson water into their treatment plants. But Saugerties is taking a different route.

The village has been trying for four years to identify and acquire a good spot for a backup well. The Storm Recovery office paid for the drilling of several exploratory wells. The chosen site will be a gravel well going down some 110 to 125 feet and capable of producing 200 gallons a minute.

“The reservoir has been our source for over a hundred years,” Hopf says. “The Catskill runoff is low in organics and is high-quality water. The community has never really given thought to tapping the river. There just hasn’t been a need.”


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