ORDA seeks permit for significant increase in water withdrawals at Olympic sports complex
By Zachary Matson
The operators of the state Olympic sports complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg seek a permit to withdraw up to 235,000 gallons of water a day from six wells and North Meadow Brook to boost snowmaking for the bobsled run and cross-country trails.
The water withdrawal permit would be the first at the site, opened as an Olympic venue in the 1930s, and run by the Olympic Regional Development Authority. ORDA intends to begin operating in compliance with a 2012 law requiring a permit for drawing water exceeding 100,000 gallons per day.
The draft permit is up for public comment with the Department of Environmental Conservation through Sept. 15.
ORDA in 2020 unveiled new snowmaking equipment at the venue, a piece of a larger overhaul in part aimed at attracting international competitions like the World University Games slated for this winter. The agency constructed a 3.5 million gallon reservoir to hold water diverted from North Meadow Brook to make snow for ski trails, ice the bobsled track and support fire suppression.
On North Meadow Brook, one pump would withdraw up to 132,480 gallons per day in October, while a second pump could pull up to 195,840 gallons per day from November through April, according to a draft DEC permit. A parking lot well could add another 25,920 gallons per day to the snowmaking reservoir.
North Meadow Brook accumulates off of Cascade, Porter and Pitchoff mountains, joining the West Branch of the Ausable River just west of Adirondack Loj Road. Engineering documents show DEC signed off on the planned withdrawal rates as “inconsequential.” State conservation officials determined the “proposed seasonal withdrawal would not rise above levels that would cause adverse impacts” to the environment or aquatic life, according to a DEC statement.
ORDA proposed upgrading pumps to increase withdrawal capacity from the stream. Current withdrawal capacity is 85 gallons per minute, over 120,000 gallons per day, and the upgrades would increase that to as high as 136 gallons per minute, according to engineering plans. The higher withdrawal rates are limited to November through March.
The draft permit requires daily streamflow monitoring of North Meadow Brook and monthly reporting to DEC’s local fish and wildlife division. DEC also set streamflow requirements. The planning documents note that water used in snowmaking is recycled back into the watershed as it melts.
“We expect to work with the [DEC] regional division of water to develop a cooperative agreement for snowmaking to ensure our operations do not exhaust the source or its aquatic life,” ORDA wrote in the permit application.
The permit would also cover the drinking water supplies at Mount Van Hoevenberg, including at the new Mountain Pass Lodge opened in early 2021. Projected drinking water demand across the venue ranged from 8,100 gallons per day to nearly 11,000 gallons per day.
The state Legislature in 2012 adopted a law requiring water systems with the capacity to withdraw at least 100,000 gallons of water per day to obtain permits. The water users must also document how much water they withdraw each year.
DEC in a statement said the agency “continues to work with water users throughout the state to obtain all necessary permits” and assess whether they meet the 100,000-gallon threshold under the water withdrawal requirements.
The state has withdrawn water at Mount Van Hoevenberg for nearly a century, using water to ice the bobsled tracks for the 1932 Olympics. It’s not clear when the venue’s system exceeded the capacity to withdraw 100,000 gallons or who determined a permit was necessary.
In the late-1980s, the venue recorded peak drinking water consumption at about 10,000 gallons per day and diverted water from North Meadow Brook to a 16,000-gallon reservoir for track icing, according to the 1986 Unit Management Plan.
A 2018 amendment to the Mount Van Hoevenberg UMP outlined a litany of changes, including construction of new ski trails with lighting and snowmaking, a new welcome center and base lodge, a new alpine coaster and expanded hiking trails and connections. Upgrades to the water system were also included.
“Mount Van Hoevenberg’s water systems have been undergoing design and subsequent construction over the past few years, and ORDA has been working with DEC on finalizing the permit,” ORDA spokesperson Darcy Norfolk said in a statement.
ORDA facilities at Whiteface Mountain, which draws water from the West Branch of the Ausable River, Gore Mountain and Belleayre Mountain all have water withdrawal permits in place. In some recent years, Whiteface reported combined water use over 500 million gallons during the snowmaking months, water withdrawals that are also reported as being returned to the watershed.
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