Funding cuts eliminate water monitoring program in city, Nassau

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A network of more than 200 wells and stations that monitors water quality, flows and levels in New York City's five boroughs and western Nassau County stopped collecting data this week.

The roughly $1 million program dates back at least 30 years and is a joint operation of New York City's Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Monitoring ended yesterday because the city cut funding to the program, which looks for contaminants, records water table levels and tracks flow from creeks, rivers and other surface bodies, said Stephen Terracciano, chief of USGS New York Water Science Center in Coram. "I don't think there is anyone else doing this kind of monitoring," he said.

 

City DEP: 'Not necessary'

The city's Department of Environmental Protection declined to provide specific information about the cuts but spokesman Ted Timbers said in an email "the data collection funded by DEP supported projects that are now complete and . . . ratepayers will not continue to fund studies that are not necessary."

USGS conducts work only with a funding partner and the agency typically contributes to costs, be it by staffing, analysis or money. "We'll continue to look for other partners to fund the network," Terracciano said.

The cuts affected 196 groundwater stations, 10 surface-water stations, one meteorological station and 133 water-quality stations. Some stations are co-located and monitored groundwater and water quality.

That includes 45 stations in western Nassau, from Long Beach to Great Neck.

A lot of people are using the data, said USGS supervisory hydrologist Ronald Busciolano. "When you have breaks . . . it really reduces the quality of the data."

The city water supply system provides more than 1 billion gallons of water each day to 8 million residents.

Reservoirs and lakes northwest of Manhattan, as well as an aquifer in Queens, have been used. But in 2012, all of the drinking water came from the Catskills/Delaware watershed area. None was from Queens, according to a 2012 DEP report.

New York City does not use the aquifers, but Long Islanders rely on them for water. The discontinued wells are drilled into the three main Long Island aquifers -- the Upper Glacial, Magothy and Lloyd.

Last year, USGS data revealed intrusion of salt water into the Lloyd was growing in parts of the North Shore and beginning along the South Shore. Nassau's Department of Public Works stopped funding monitoring in 2010 because of budget issues. But in September, a group of Nassau public and private water suppliers agreed to cover costs for one year.

 

District: 'A vital tool'

The city funding cuts, which affect separate Nassau wells, are disappointing, said Mike Boufis, superintendent of Bethpage Water District and chairman of Long Island Water Conference. "We feel it's definitely a vital tool we can use," he said. "Any monitoring we can get done only gives us more info that we can make educated decisions about."

Districts routinely test their drinking water.

Many groups have used the data over the years, including City University of New York, National Park Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, city agencies and construction engineers, Busciolano said.

 

Weather service affected

One shuttered monitor transmits real-time water levels in the Bronx River and is one tool that helps National Weather Service in Upton issue flash flood warnings for the Bronx River Parkway, said I. Ross Dickman, meteorologist in charge at the Suffolk facility. "I think any time you take data . . . away, it's not good."

The service often issues flood alerts and does not have access to real-time water level monitors in all the vulnerable areas, but Dickman said the information is key to modeling and confirming predictions.

"You have to have verification in many cases to make sure you are not doing the public a disservice by putting out false alarms," Dickman said.

Another closed monitoring site is in Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal, a federal Superfund site. Gowanus Canal Conservancy wants data to be collected from the two closed existing wells and thinks more wells should be installed and monitored before, during and after cleanup, said Rich Kampf, an environmental consultant who serves on the board of the conservancy. "We need to understand how this system works now and then track it as these changes take place," he said.

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