Foes of a New York City plan to study reopening dozens of dormant groundwater wells in Southeastern Queens urged the plan’s postponement to make sure Long Island’s water supply wouldn’t be jeopardized.
At a public meeting Wednesday night in Mineola, 25 Long Islanders, including public officials and environmentalists, assailed the plan as dangerous, disingenuous and worrisome.
A city Department of Environmental Protection official overseeing the plan’s review, Mark Page Jr., stood feet away for the two-hours-plus meeting. He was the only speaker who didn’t criticize the plan.
Long Island officials are pushing back on the plan because they say withdrawing water from the underground wells could damage the sole source aquifers that the nearly 3 million residents of Nassau and Suffolk counties rely on for drinking water.
“It’s literally robbing Peter to pay Paul,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, which has an office in Farmingdale. She added: “There’s no plan-B. We literally have nowhere to go in Nassau County or Long Island for additional water. Nowhere.”
Foes handed out fliers depicting the city agency as an eye-masked bandit clad in a burglar’s cap and striped prisoner’s top.
“NYC: DON’T STEAL LONG ISLAND’S DRINKING WATER,” one of the fliers read. “SAY NO TO RE-OPENING QUEENS WELLS.”
The city distributes about a billion gallons of surface water to more than 9 million New Yorkers every day using a network of lakes, reservoirs and aqueducts.
But as part of a water resiliency plan, the city is undertaking an environmental review associated with modernizing and rehabilitating its underground water supply system, which is permitted to pump 62 million gallons per day from 68 water supply wells in Queens.
“We are not gonna be seeking any new wells or any changes to the capacities of our existing wells,” Page said at the meeting’s outset.
The wells have not been used since 2007 and Long Island officials say turning them on could cause salt water intrusion into its freshwater supplies, and change the direction of groundwater plumes.
The city’s permits to use the wells expire this year and an environmental review is not required to renew them, state Department of Environmental Conservation officials said.
Angela Licata, a deputy commissioner with the city DEP, said that no changes in how water was distributed were planned, but the city wanted to have options in case of emergency or drought.
“It would be helpful to make certain we have that groundwater system available in case of one of these instances,” she said.
Brian Schneider, a hydrogeologist who is Nassau’s assistant to the deputy commissioner of public works, urged the city to explain more about the plan, such as the definition of an emergency, what would trigger an emergency and what would mark the end of one.
Long Island opponents want the city to wait until a $6 million groundwater monitoring study that kicked off in February gets underway and the first data is released.
“Let’s not rush,” said Paul J. Granger, superintendent of the Port Washington Water District. “Let’s collect this data first.”