Hows The Water

10.11.12 Long Island’s Threatened Water Supply

Two joint legislative hearings regarding Long Island’s water supply have been held.  Both of these hearings were co-sponsored by Nassau County Legislator Judi Bosworth and Suffolk County Legislator William R. Spencer.  The purpose of these hearings was to seek public input on local and regional groundwater conditions and concerns, and to discuss problems of water quality, saltwater intrusion, contamination cleanup and other issues affecting Long Island’s water resources.

Each hearing was well attended by environmental organizations, including Friends of the Bay, Water For Long Island, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, The Nature Conservancy, Operation SPLASH, Vision Long Island, the United States Geological Survey, and political officials, including Judy Jacobs, Wayne Horsley, Wayne Wink and representatives from Senator Gillibrand’s and Congressman Israel’s office, among others.

What has emerged from these two hearings is that Long Island’s water supply is being threatened on many fronts.  Pesticides, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, nitrates, are all entering our groundwater.  There are toxic plumes, such as the plume emanating from the Bethpage Grumman site ( a Superfund site), or the composting facility at Horseblock Road.  Saltwater intrusion has closed wells on the Great Neck peninsula, in southwestern Nassau County and in Bayville.  This is going to be a continuing concern as sea levels rise and water is withdrawn from the aquifers.  Our harbors and bays are being increasingly impacted from excess nitrogen, which leads to brown tides and algal blooms which closes shellfish beds and swimming beaches.

There will be a third joint legislative hearing on December 5, at a location to be determined.  Please set the date aside, and attend if possible.  The quality of our water is a critical issue on Long Island.

Friend’s of the Bay made the following statement at the second hearing:

“Friends of the Bay is an organization devoted to protecting water quality.  We have received much sobering information at these two hearings.

What is becoming more and more evident is that the water on Long Island has to be managed holistically – surface water, groundwater and the water in our harbors and bays.  All are interconnected, and all are being increasingly impacted by pollution from pesticides, fertilizers, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, gasoline, volatile organic chemicals, saltwater intrusion, and plastics.  Our harbors and bays especially are being impacted by an excess of nitrogen, which leads to algal blooms, and causes closures of shellfishing beds.  Elevated bacteria counts cause swimming beaches to close.  There is a severe economic impact in terms of lost production of shellfish, negative impacts on recreational and commercial fishing, and lost tourism dollars.

What should be obvious to us all, is that more knowledge regarding water quality and quantity is needed.  As Michelle Schimel (member of the New York State Assembly) mentioned, the public and private water suppliers in Nassau County have stepped in to pay for United States Geological Service monitoring of water levels in the aquifer system.  This monitoring was interrupted this year due to budget cuts. The suppliers are to be commended for taking this pro-active measure.  They are charged with keeping Long Island’s drinking water safe and free of contaminants.  The charge to the rest of us, environmental groups, concerned citizens, and legislators, is to keep contaminants from entering water in the first place.

Friends of the Bay began monitoring off shore water conditions in the late 1990s due to budget cuts.  We, along with other groups like the Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor, have provided data necessary to inform management decisions regarding our water resources and the actions necessary to protect them.  Having this data has allowed the reopening of shellfish beds in Hempstead Harbor – the first reopening in New York State waters in 40 years, and the closure of a package treatment plant which was polluting Mill Neck Creek with sewage.  We cannot help but wonder what new budget constraints may be coming, and how they will impact our marine environment, which is so essential to the Long Island way of life.

Guarding our water should not be subject to changing political priorities.

Better management and protection of all of our water resources is needed.  I do wish that I could say I have the definitive solution to all these challenges, but unfortunately, I cannot.   There are positive and attainable actions that can be implemented.  Some actions, like the banning of the most damaging pesticides, banning or reducing the use of plastic bags, safe disposal of pharmaceuticals, continued support of monitoring programs, could be implemented relatively quickly and easily.  Others, such as providing a cohesive management structure, the construction of sewage infrastructure and the upgrading of sewage treatment plants, are expensive and long term projects that will require major investments of both financial means and political will.  All are essential to the future growth of Long Island.  The quality of our water will ultimately determine the quality of our lives here on Long Island.