The state has received thousands of objections to the proposed desalination water treatment plant that would serve Rockland County, including many who are calling for conservation.

The call for greater conservation accounted for a significant block of 1,200 public comments that local residents submitted in response to the state's Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the desalination plant project, according to Mike Pointing, vice president and general manager of water supplier United Water New York.

Officials with United Water, which is running a pilot desalination project in West Haverstraw, said Wednesday that they are pressing forward with the proposal anyway.

"This is a state mandate. We don't have a choice," said Pointing, who added that in 2006, the state ordered United Water to find a new long-term water supply solution to cope with the needs of Rockland County's growing population.

The company favors desalinating Hudson River water -- filtering it and removing the salt -- as the all-around best solution for Rockland County's needs. In December 2010, United Water set up a pilot treatment plant at 4 Carol Ave., within West Haverstraw Business Park. The company said it has treated 40 million gallons of water since opening.

Other public comments received by the April 20 deadline urged the company to take a second look at previously rejected options, such as reusing wastewater or building a new reservoir, which were considered too expensive and ultimately unfeasible, according to Pointing.

By early summer, the comments will be indexed, numbered and answered as part of a Final Environmental Impact Statement that the state must release before the project can move to the next step in the application process.

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In addition to the public comments, the state also received 17,000 signatures from around the country opposed to the project, Pointing said.

The project has been met with vigorous opposition from local residents and environmentalists, according to the Rockland Water Coalition, a network of more than two dozen groups. The plant will be expensive, produce water of questionable quality and destroy an important spawning ground for coastal fish as well as impact other wildlife in the area, they argue.

"Our concerns are the potentially devastating impact on the ecology of Haverstraw Bay," said Manna Jo Greene of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, one of the organizations involved in mobilizing the protest. "This would be an extremely expensive and energy-intensive process that Rockland ratepayers would bear the cost of."

There are no water desalination facilities in New York. Although several plants have been built in the Northeast, they are more prevalent on the West Coast and in arid sections of the country, according to Lori Severino, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.