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Protections for Long Island’s vital aquifers outlined in report

A new 236-page draft report recommends 143 safeguards for the Island’s groundwater. A Thursday public hearing revealed the multitude of threats and complexity of combating them.

The Long Island Commission for Aquifer Protection meets

The Long Island Commission for Aquifer Protection meets on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. Jeffrey Szabo, vice chairman of the commission and CEO of the Suffolk County Water Authority, is second from left. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Reactions to a new 236-page draft report that recommended 143 safeguards for Long Island’s groundwater at a Thursday public hearing revealed the multitude of threats and complexity of combating them.

The Long Island Commission for Aquifer Protection’s most urgent proposals include obliging the state and Nassau and Suffolk counties to empower local planning boards to impose requirements on new developments, from highly efficient plumbing to advanced septic systems.

Equipping the public and decision-makers with the latest data on water quality and dealing swiftly with contaminated plumes also made the list.

At the hearing in Hauppauge, Suffolk Deputy County Executive Peter Scully, commended the commission for taking so many divergent views into account, adding it should get a one-year extension so that it could analyze the solutions’ costs and benefits and develop timetables.

Ed Romaine, Brookhaven supervisor, said: “The best way I have found, over a long career, to protect groundwater is to limit development.” He stressed the criticality of ensuring the aquifer can continue to safely supply the entire Island with drinking water.

Noting 20 percent of Suffolk’s 190 sewage treatment plants not only fail to meet county standards but a number cannot afford upgrades, Romaine called for improving the removal of contaminants.

While about 90 percent of Nassau has sewers, 70 percent of Suffolk has none — and Romaine said that option remained unpopular, especially out east, where some residents feared installing them would spur development.

Sewers have another drawback, he said, citing the Ronkonkoma Hub, which will be tied into the Southwest Sewer District.

Romaine said he would have preferred a new wastewater treatment plant for the huge housing-commercial development, as it could strain the aquifer by sharply boosting how much water is consumed at the same time that the wastewater is discharged into the ocean.

Contaminants of another sort — weedkillers, pesticides and fertilizers — were the focus of Stephen Jones, chairman of The Peconic Land Trust, a conservation nonprofit.

With homeowners, “I think that there’s a tremendous amount of overuse going on,” Jones said, saying the products “fly off the shelves” during summer.

Education for home gardeners and lawn owners is one way the nonprofit hopes to stop the cycle of adding pollutants to water that must be removed, he said.

To Robert Bender, CEO of Ronkonkoma-based R.B. Bender Group Inc., bio-organic technology is a cost-effective way to cleanse nitrogen from wastewater because it can be installed with the existing infrastructure.

“We can reduce the nitrogen leaching into the aquifer and make sewage treatment plants 30 to 40 percent more efficient without any capital expenditure,” he said.

Two more hearings are planned: Tuesday, Peter J. Schmitt Memorial Legislative Chamber, Mineola, 3-5 p.m. and 6 p.m.; Wednesday, Evans K. Griffing Building, Riverhead, 6 p.m.

Public comments on the report are due Dec. 8. The final report, which the commission hopes to approve on Dec. 13 after reviewing the comments, is here: http://www.liaquifercommission.com/images/Nov_2017_Groundwater_Resources_Management_Plan_draft_.pdf

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