Cornell takes steps to deal with drought

By Pete Angie

Water levels in Fall Creek broke record lows 14 days in a row earlier this month. It is a primary source for Cornell’s water system.
Water levels in Fall Creek broke record lows 14 days in a row earlier this month. It is a primary source for Cornell’s water system.
Tompkins County is experiencing severe drought conditions, according to data released on July 12 by The National Drought Mitigation Center. This has caused Cornell University to be concerned about meeting the demands put on its water system.
How long the dry spell will last is unknown, but Chris Bordlemay, Manger of Water and Waste Water at Cornell points out, “We’re about to enter the driest time of year.” In response to the dry weather Cornell officials released on July 19 a limited water use advisory to the campus and the public it serves, which are residents in the Forest Home and Cornell Heights neighborhoods in the Town of Ithaca.
The advisory had been released previously to buildings and grounds managers on the Cornell campus only, and is a voluntary measure that asks that water be used solely for essential purposes, and not for things like watering lawns, filling pools or washing cars.
Cornell also approved the creation of a Drought Response Team to look into ways to be prepared for continued low water levels, and plan for tighter restrictions on water usage if needed.
Cornell draws its water from Fall Creek, where a small A-frame building houses the intake near Flat Rock, a popular swimming and wading area. Currently the campus is able to meet demand, but there is doubt that it will be able to continue to do so if the current low water levels remain when students return on Aug. 19.
Water levels in Fall Creek broke record lows for 14 days in a row in mid July. The previous record lows were set in 1999, 1962 and 1955, according to Bordlemay. One possible short-term solution that Cornell is looking at is receiving supplemental water from Bolton Point water treatment plant.
Bolton Point is operated by five municipalities in the area—the Town of Ithaca, Town of Dryden, Town of Lansing, Village of Lansing and the Village of Cayuga Heights—and supplies water to over 30,000 residents. Previously, Cornell has received some water from Bolton Point for very brief periods of time, such as when making water system repairs.
Cornell is not getting any additional water currently, but talks have occurred between Cornell, Bolton and the Tompkins County Health Department to discuss how Bolton could help if the drought continues. Joan Foote, Manager of Bolton Point, has been part of those talks and does not recall any time previously when discussions of this nature have been held. Foote stated that Cornell officials informed her that in 91 years of keeping records their water levels have never been this low.
Foote states that the drought has had no effect on Bolton’s ability to provide water to residents because the plant draws from Cayuga Lake, which Foote calls an unlimited supply. Likewise, the drought has not affected water quality at Bolton.
“We have very clean water,” says Foote, adding that “the entire lake acts a giant settling pool.” Currently Bolton Point is helping to supplement the City of Ithaca by providing 0.4 million gallons per day, while the city rebuilds its water treatment plant on Six Mile Creek. This has been happening for several months and is not related to the low water levels.
“So far we’re doing all right,” says Bordlemay of the current situation at Cornell. “We’re trying to figure out how to get through all of this together.” However, he worries that “if this doesn’t get better by then [when students return] we’re going to be hurting.”