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Cheese plant drawing 'unsustainable' amount of water in North Country village

WRVO News File Photo

A plant in the North Country that produces the famous Philadelphia-brand cream cheese has triggered a mandatory water conservation order in the Village of Lowville, and the issue may have been a result of a misunderstanding between village leaders and the owner of the plant.

When Kraft-Heinz announced in 2015 that the company would make a $100 million expansion of its Lowville plant, the village's mayor Donna Smith says they were aware that it would require more water. But Smith says there was a discrepancy on how much they would choose to use in a given period of time.

"We were not planning that our system would be taxed and react the way that it’s reacting," Smith said. 

According to the New York State Department of Health, Kraft-Heinz recently used more than 1 million gallons of water in a single day, when the treatment plant can only filter 1.3 million gallons in 24 hours. A state engineer called in unsustainable and disruptive the community.

"The significant industrial user is pulling a majority of their water during one of their shifts of operation," Smith said. "Our filtration plant filters water on a 24-hour basis, so when we have a lot of water that’s pulled initially, that essentially does not work well with the system we have in place."

A spokesperson for Kraft-Heinz said in a statement that the village was told water usage would rise after the expansion, but they are working with local leaders on a solution. Smith says the company is supposed to be recycling more of the water it draws from the plant.

On the village's end, leaders are considering adding more filters to the water treatment plant to increase its speed.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.