Long Island's water providers will have more time and money to treat for emerging contaminants under state regulations proposed Tuesday and $120 million in grants announced by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
The regulations would allow water districts to apply for waivers of up to three years to meet drinking water standards for 1,4-dioxane, a likely carcinogen used at industrial sites and found in trace amounts in cosmetics and household products. The waiver would also apply to perfluorooctane sulfonate [PFOS], found in firefighting foams, and perfluorooctanoic acid [PFOA], found in nonstick and stain-resistant products.
Cuomo also announced grants of up to $15 million for treatment at 37 Long Island wells, all of which currently exceed the proposed drinking water standards for the chemicals, which have been linked to cancers and other health effects.
The grants, which will cover up to 60 percent of costs for water treatment, will go to the water districts of Bethpage, Carle Place, Dix Hills, East Meadow in Hempstead, Franklin Square, Garden City, Garden City Park, Great Neck North, Greenlawn, Hicksville, Jericho, Manhasset-Lakeville, Mineola, Oyster Bay, Plainview, Port Washington, Roslyn, Southern Farmingdale, Westbury, West Hempstead, Western Nassau County, South Huntington and the Suffolk County Water Authority.
Previously, grants had been capped at $3 million per district when Cuomo first announced a $200 million pot of money for treatment in October 2018.
The latest grants and proposed waivers are a win for Long Island water districts, who have said they would lose insurance coverage and customers' trust by knowingly providing water that violated state standards. They also said their ratepayers would be saddled with the entirety of costs that could total as much as $1.5 billion, including $840 million for 1,4-dioxane.
"We’re overjoyed the state heard us when we said we need more time and more money to address the emerging contaminant issue," said Dennis Kellehar, public relations chairman for the Long Island Water Conference, which represents 41 public water suppliers in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Equipment to treat for the pollutants, particularly 1,4-dioxane, is difficult to install and the districts have said they faced delays with getting regulatory approval.
Environmentalists said they understand the delays, but the public should know in the meantime whether their water is contaminated.
"The public has to be properly notified and kept up to speed and informed so people can make their own decision about whether they want to continue to consume that water," said Sarah Meyland, director of the center for Water Resources Management at NYIT in Old Westbury and a member of Cuomo's Drinking Water Quality Council that recommended treatment levels for the three contaminants.
"I think I agree with many people who would not like any delay at all from a health safety standpoint," she said. "We have to acknowledge a modest delay must be necessary because it’s physically impossible to implement necessary changes to meet standards for 1,4-dioxane."
Eric Goldstein, senior attorney for Natural Resources Defense Council, said that while overall it was a "sound proposal," he urged that no waiver be considered for PFOA and PFOS, which can be removed through conventional treatment methods.
The state will allow water districts to apply for two-year waivers to meet the standards, and then could include a one-year extension, Deputy Health Commissioner Brad Hutton said in an interview. The waivers would require customers get detailed disclosures of contamination levels and progress on treatment, he said. The waivers could also be revoked.
Water systems that have high levels of contamination "need to move aggressively to put treatment in place, they need to inform customers, they need to make progress," Hutton said, adding that the waiver "means that water systems can continue to serve consumers while they put treatment in place, without worrying they’re in violation of a new standard."
The proposed drinking water standards could go into effect by April at the earliest, Hutton said, with districts required to start testing in May.
State regulation proposed in July would not have allowed the waiver.
Water providers in October had warned of dramatic conservation measures they'd have to implement — including moratoriums on new water connections and bans on lawn irrigation — if the state had moved ahead with swift implementation of the drinking water standard.
In addition Tuesday, Cuomo announced another $58 million for other water infrastructure work, including sewer projects in Nassau County and Westhampton Beach.
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said the three years "is a lot better" than the seven years some water providers had requested to comply.
"Overall, we’re aggressively moving toward a solid plan for treatment," she said. "And the state funding is critical."
With Michael Gormley
Applicant Name Estimated Project Cost Estimated Grant Award Number of projects
Water Authority of Great Neck North $5,000,000 $3,000,000 1
Oyster Bay Water District $5,429,000 $257,400 1
Port Washington Water District $30,128,000 $15,076,800 3
Hempstead, (East Meadow Water District) $5,689,000 $413,400 1
Village of Garden City $14,983,496 $8,990,098 2
Plainview Water District $6,117,000 $3,670,200 1
South Farmingdale Water District $6,400,000 $840,000 1
Bethpage Water District $6,425,000 $3,855,000 1
Garden City Park Water District $6,500,000 $3,900,000 1
West Hempstead Water District $6,540,250 $924,150 1
Franklin Square Water District $6,871,000 $1,122,600 1
Roslyn Water District $7,475,000 $4,485,000 1
Water Authority of Western Nassau County $8,217,000 $4,930,200 1
Village of Mineola $8,300,000 $4,980,000 1
Jericho Water District $19,095,950 $11,457,570 2
Manhasset-Lakeville Water District $23,309,500 $10,985,700 2
Carle Place Water District $11,270,000 $6,762,000 1
Hicksville Water District $23,360,000 $14,016,000 2
Westbury Water District $12,315,000 $7,389,000 1
Suffolk County Water Authority $21,000,000 $12,600,000 9
Huntington, Town of (Dix Hills Water District) Suffolk $5,070,000 $42,000 1
Greenlawn Water District $5,286,000 $171,600 1
South Huntington Water District $6,192,500 $715,500 1