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Oak Beach residents face yet another delay in return to safe drinking water

Residents of the 200 houses in the barrier

Residents of the 200 houses in the barrier beach community of Oak Beach in Babylon Town get tap water from a system of wells that in recent years have been linked to three E. coli outbreaks.   Credit: Barry Sloan

Plans for a new public water system in Babylon’s Oak Beach community are delayed again as officials await the state's approval on a water treatment plant, leaving residents without potable water for at least another year.

Residents of the 200 houses there get tap water from a system of wells that in recent years have been linked to three E. coli outbreaks.

The Town of Babylon’s plan includes building a water treatment plant to connect three of the wells that service 59 properties, including a community center.

The project was initially projected to begin in 2018, but town officials said in December that was behind schedule, expected to kick off in 2019 and be completed by winter 2019.

Now, the project is behind schedule again while officials await approvals from the New York State Department of Health, and the soonest it could be completed is June 2020, town officials said.

The project has been discussed for two decades, Suffolk County Department of Health Services spokeswoman Grace Kelly-McGovern said, but the department has recently prioritized the work because of the compromised water quality. It requires the town, which owns the land and leases it to homeowners, to make system changes.

The 59 houses and a community center that must connect to the treatment plant will do so because they are among groups of five or more homes connected to a single well and considered a public water system, which the county water authority regulates.

In late May, the town notified residents that a 2018 water quality report for the Oak Beach system found high levels of iron in the three wells. But that’s not why a “do not drink” order has been in effect since June 2017, town officials said.

“The biggest problem isn’t the water, it’s the distribution system,” said Joe Guarino, principal environmental analyst for Babylon Town.

The unpressurized system could allow contaminants to enter at any time, he said, adding that the order will remain in effect until the treatment system that chlorinates the water is in place.

Chlorination is required by the state sanitary code, said state health department spokeswoman Erin Silk.

Melville-based H2M architects + engineers designed the water treatment plan for Babylon Town and is awaiting the state's approval.

The project is expected to cost more than $3 million and will be funded with a $1.8 million state grant and a $1.2 million no-interest loan.

The homeowners who will connect to the new system will pay additional costs, estimated at $1,500 annually, as well as unspecified operation and maintenance costs.

Before the town took over the wells in 2017, residents were paying for their own water quality tests, as well as operation and maintenance costs on the wells, town officials said.

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