But a key caveat in the agreement limits its utility as even an emergency water supply. The city water board can order the town to institute water conservancy measures "at least equal to" those within the city, which would presumably occur during periods of reduced water supply.
The town is required to be able to produce enough water to handle the highest monthly peak demand in the past 10 years, which stands at 8.7 million gallons per day. With a peak output of 3 MGD from the Vly Creek Reservoir and 1 MGD from the New Salem wellfield, the New Salem Water Treatment plant can't handle the requirement.
Although Supervisor Sam Messina said he doesn't want to second-guess past decisions, he admitted the contract was "probably not the best thing for the town." He said there have been recent discussions with the Albany Water Board, but no conclusions have been reached yet.
"We are interested in moving forward in a contractual relationship, looking to reduce our costs and perhaps our water requirements in the future," he said.
But others wondered if Bethlehem won't end up eating the cost for years to come.
"It's a contract I wish we could get out of" said Councilman Mark Jordan. "I think it's one of those situations where it's so good for them that I can't imagine they'd want to change any part of it."
The town will have to make a decision in coming weeks, though. Bethlehem's finished water essentially comes from three sources: the New Salem Water Treatment Plant, the Clapper Road Water Treatment Plant and the City of Albany, and one of those will have to be modified or expanded to meet approaching federal quality standards and better adjust the town to present and future demand needs.
All alternatives have a price tag of $130 to $140 million over the next 13 years, according to the town, but opening up the Clapper Road plant would have the least immediate impact because fewer physical improvements would be needed (the plant was constructed in 1994, more than four decades after New Salem).
But town leaders want to see if concerns over the quality Clapper Road waster will rise again. A plan to deliver the water to residences was shelved because the water is taken from wells near the Hudson, and the plant now operates under capacity.
Hennessey said he hopes the community makes its thoughts on the issue known.
"This is a generational-type decision," he said. "We have the opportunity to structure what we think the water supply should look like in the Town of Bethlehem.""