Press Release

Schumer And Gillibrand Announce $150K In Rural Economic Development Funding For Wells College Water Plant Improvements

Aug 20, 2018

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today announced $150,000 in federal funding for Wells College in Cayuga County. This federal funding was allocated through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development Business Grant Program. Specifically, the funds will be used to address a new vulnerability in Wells College’s water plant system, which is the water source for the campus as well as businesses and residents in the village of Aurora. Wells College has two Diatomaceous Earth (DE) filters, but they are not effective at removing suspended solids, particulate matter, and bacteria, and could allow algal toxins to get through. These funds will help pay for the installation of five granular activated carbon (GAC) filters necessary to remove toxins associated with blue-green algae and replace the ineffective DE filters. Schumer previously wrote to the USDA to express support for Wells College’s application for Rural Development grant funding to improve their water plant system.

“This federal investment is good news for the village of Aurora and Wells College,” said Senator Schumer. “These federal funds will allow Wells College to make the critical modifications they need to provide clean, safe drinking water to its community. I am proud to announce this federal investment and will continue fighting to ensure rural communities across Upstate New York have the resources they need to build, protect and maintain their infrastructure.”

“Through this federal funding, Wells College will be able to install new filters that will help them better protect their drinking water against algal blooms and other contaminants,” said Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “This will help ensure clean water for residents of the college campus and village of Aurora. I will always fight in the Senate to make sure our communities have the tools they need to upgrade their water systems and to provide clean water for New Yorkers.”  

USDA Rural Development Business Grants aim to provide access to technical assistance, training and other activities that develop or expand small private businesses in rural communities. The grants can be used to purchase or develop land, structures, machinery, etc., lessen pollution, conduct studies or research, and better transportation in rural areas. More information can be found here.

A copy of Senator Schumer’s original letter to the USDA appears below:

Dear Secretary Perdue:

I am pleased to write in support of the application submitted by Wells College for funding through the United States Department of Agriculture 2018 Rural Development Business Grant Program. Such funding will enable Wells College to modify and upgrade their water treatment facility.

Wells College is a private undergraduate college located in the village of Aurora, New York. In 1929, Wells constructed a water filtration plant in their physical plant building adjacent to Cayuga Lake. At that time, Wells College owned most of the properties – both residential and commercial – in Aurora and therefore, it was appropriate to provide them with water. Over the last 30 years, however, the College sold off all its commercial properties in the village to private ownership as well as most of its residential properties. Wells College remains in the unique position of serving as a public utility for the community in which it resides. Doing so, however, opens Wells College to liability and the cost of operating the aged system has become too much for the college to bear.

Last fall a new vulnerability was identified in the College’s water plant system, the State of NY announced signs of toxic algae in the Cayuga Lake and Wells College was informed that if the levels got high enough, a “No Drink” policy would be put into effect. Given the seriousness of the toxicity and the detection of microcystin in Cayuga Lake, the Cayuga County Department of Health (CCDOG) has directed Wells College to implement a treatment solution prior to the 2018 bloom season.

Wells College current water plant has two Diatomaceous Earth (DE) filters, which were installed in the 1960s. While these filters are effective at removing suspended solids, particulate matter and bacteria, they will still allow algal toxins to pass through. With funding, Wells college will address their critical vulnerability with their filtration system and install five new Granular Activated Charcoal Filters inside their DE Filter room. I applaud Wells College for its foresight, and sincerely hope the application meets with your approval.

Thank you for your consideration. Please do not hesitate to contact me or my Grants Coordinator in my Washington, DC office at 202-224-6542.