It’s not possible to say or do too much when it comes to protecting water. So we welcome the water quality initiatives presented on Thursday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Some of his proposals are new, some previously announced, some innovative, but all very much needed.
As usual, execution and follow-through will be critical.
The governor addressed one long-standing necessity by committing $6 million in state funds to study Long Island’s groundwater. There hasn’t been a study in years. Its scope is unclear but the study will include an analysis of chemical contamination as well as where saltwater is intruding into our sole-source aquifer, not only on Nassau County’s North Shore but across the region. It also should measure the size of the aquifer and how much water is being used, to check sustainability. It should watch out for emerging chemicals so we aren’t always reacting to something that already is a severe threat.
The study also should marry the two areas Cuomo identified as his most challenging — the environment and terrorism — by evaluating whether the Lloyd aquifer, our deepest and most pure source of water, should be considered a strategic asset that must be reserved as much as possible for emergency use, for example, in the event New York City’s water supply is disrupted.
But the study cannot be only a compilation of facts. It must be used as a tool to guide decisions and help make policy. Cuomo seems to get that. In his speech at Stony Brook University, he called it a blueprint for managing the resource.
But we wish he had addressed one of the most inefficient aspects of water management on Long Island — Nassau’s balkanized system of providing water. The county has more than three dozen water fiefdoms — a mix of municipal districts, commissioner-run special districts, private corporations and public authorities — each looking after its own narrow interests. Our water must be managed regionally because we all dip our straws into the same metaphorical glass. Ideally, that would be a single Long Island water authority. But we must deal in the realm of the possible. That means a Nassau water authority similar to the agency that provides water to most of Suffolk. Cuomo has championed consolidating special districts. This is a fight worth waging.
Other good steps announced by Cuomo include state testing of the Bethpage plume with results to be made public; that will help data-starved districts plan for the contamination that’s headed their way. The state also will build on a smaller Suffolk program by testing for contaminants at all 65 mulching facilities on Long Island, and will issue for the first time common-sense regulations for those facilities. And it will establish a rapid response team to deal quickly with drinking water threats around the state. It might be the first such team in the country, and shows that lessons from the debacle in Flint, Michigan, are percolating around the nation. Indeed, Cuomo also talked Thursday about how pipes can affect water quality.
Water is our most important natural resource. Cuomo’s plans build on the considerable momentum of the past year to protect it.
Let’s keep talking, and doing.