Tuscarora water drive seeking community's support

Organizers of the annual Tuscarora Water Drive are planning a bottled water distribution event for Saturday. Any individuals or business owners who are interested in supporting the drive are asked to call 858-610-4905 for more information. 

Organizers of an ongoing effort to provide fresh bottled water to residents of the Tuscarora Reservation in Lewiston are looking for the community's support for a weekend water drive. 

Supporters of the third annual Tuscarora Water Drive plan to make another delivery of bottled water to residents of the reservation on Saturday and are looking for donations to support their cause. 

Niagara Falls resident Ken Cosentino, one of the founders of the water drive, said the Saturday bottled water distribution comes at a time when the region and the rest of the nation is experiencing an uptick in coronavirus cases, which he noted led to the hoarding of vital supplies like bottled water back in March when the pandemic was at one of its highest points. 

With local positivity rates rising again and the possibility of the state imposing another lockdown, Cosentino said the water drive is as important as ever. 

"During this time, the water drive was invaluable," Cosentino said, referring to March water bottle distribution efforts. "As another shutdown is looming, the Niagara Falls Water Protectors hope to deliver a massive supply of drinking water."

The water drive was started by Cosentino and his partner in the project, Randy Greene, who grew up on the Tuscarora Reservation. Cosentino said it grew out of a desire to help alleviate the stress many residents of the reservation face as they choose to purchase bottled water rather than rely on groundwater from wells on reservation land.

As a sovereign nation, water mains in surrounding communities in Niagara County do not extend to reservation land. As a result, many reservation residents rely on wells to provide them with water to drink, cook and wash. Previous studies have found contamination within wells on the reservation, with some testing positive for contaminants like lead, E. coli and other bacteria. As a result, many reservation residents rely on bottled water only as their primary source of drinking water. 

Three years ago, Cosentino, Greene and other supporters of the drive started bringing shipments of bottled water to the reservation on a monthly basis. 

"While it's a band-aid on a bullet hole, their efforts are greatly appreciated by those families who are in desperate need of water," Cosentino said. 

Cosentino notes that for hundreds of years residents of the Tuscarora Reservation enjoyed fresh, potable water from Fish Creek and Gill Creek. He said the situation changed in 1958 when Robert Moses flooded 600 acres of Tuscarora land for the New York Power Authority reservoir. He said the move effectively dammed up the fresh water creeks and stopped the flow of potable water to the reservation.

Because the Tuscarora Reservation sits atop the highest point in Niagara County, Cosentino said groundwater moves away from the reservation. He said decades of improper waste removal have poisoned an overwhelming majority of the wells. Cosentino believes the only solution is to build proper irrigation and connect to the closest fresh water source. The solution, he said, will cost millions of dollars.

"NYPA has continuously denied any involvement in this crisis, but the Tuscarora Reservation had fresh water until NYPA dammed up their creeks," Cosentino said. "It doesn't take a genius to see that this issue began with NYPA and that means they must take responsibility and move towards a viable solution."

While state officials agreed years ago to rename the Robert Moses State Parkway, calling it the Niagara Scenic Parkway to disconnect the roadway from Moses, the man who advocated for its construction, Cosentino said state officials have continuously ignored the impact Moses and the power authority project had on the Tuscarora reservation. 

"They removed his name from the parkway but the state still continues to ignore the damages he has caused hundreds of families," Cosentino said. 

Cosentino thanked  a trio of local businesses - Eat Rite Foods, Marketside Restaurant and Niagara Honeymoon Sweets - for their continued support of the water drive.

He said organizers of this year's drive are welcoming additional donations this year. For more information or to make a donation, contact Charlene at 858-610-4905.

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