Two groups have stopped funding the U.S. Geological Survey's groundwater studies in Nassau County, causing the federal agency to halt data collection on the state of Long Island's sole source of drinking water.
Both the Long Island Water Conference and the Nassau Suffolk Water Commissioners' Association told the federal agency they no longer can contribute a total of $70,000 for a year of groundwater studies in the county, said Ron Busciolano, supervisory hydrologist with the agency's New York Water Science Center in Coram.
As a result, the federal agency had to stop its monthly monitoring of about 50 wells sunk into the aquifer system in Nassau in May, leaving experts without a clear picture of what is happening in the groundwater system, including the effects of pumping and droughts, and making it ultimately more challenging to manage the resource.
"We really don't know now, especially as it's been pretty dry here, what's going on in terms of the overall aquifer conditions in Nassau County," Busciolano said.
The Long Island Water Conference's $20,000 contribution had been used to produce data for the USGS's water level maps, created every three years, Busciolano said.
But representatives from both groups said they never intended for their contributions to be annual.
The Nassau Suffolk Water Commissioners' Association, which had given $50,000, had to reduce its contribution to $5,000 for financial considerations, spokesman Jamie Stanco said.
"Everybody agrees it's a thing that needs to be done and they want to support it in any way possible, but financially they certainly weren't capable of doing it on a regular basis on those numbers," he said.
Dennis Kelleher, chair of the public-relations committee of the Long Island Water Conference, said his group's donation had been made up of one-time donations from individual water suppliers who hadn't given money to the studies.
"The Water Conference really doesn't have any money to contribute," he said. "We all thought it was just a one-time event."
Busciolano spoke about the issue at a meeting of Nassau County Water Resources Board on Thursday. That body voted unanimously to seek other avenues of funding from the federal government, the state or the county.
County spokeswoman Katie Grilli-Robles said in a statement the county would "review the request and speak with the appropriate parties to advocate for full restoration of funds."
Sarah Meyland, director of the Center for Water Resources Management at the New York Institute of Technology and a member of the Water Resources Board, called the halt in data collection "very disturbing," especially during the critical summer months when demand for water is at its highest.
"It's in the part of the year where the greatest stress is put on the aquifer system," she said, noting Long Island is currently in a drought.
This isn't the first data gap in Nassau County. Data collection stopped in 2010 after the county cut its contribution as a cost-saving measure. The county restored funding last year and now spends about $150,000 a year on the program, which costs about $350,000 annually.
The USGS provides between 20 percent and 30 percent in matching funds for the program, Busciolano said.
"Everybody sees the need for it," Busciolano said. "I feel confident that we will get the monitoring back."