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Suffolk lawmakers urged to pull plug on water protection board

Bipartisan commission has failed to develop an effective aquifer management plan with enforcement powers, advocates say.

The Long Island Commission for Aquifer Protection during

The Long Island Commission for Aquifer Protection during a public hearing on Nov. 30, 2017. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Water advocates Monday urged Suffolk lawmakers to overhaul or disband a bipartisan commission to protect Long Island’s water aquifer, saying it has failed its main mission to develop an effective water management plan with legal powers to enforce it.

The environment and planning committee voted to send the proposal to the full legislature to extend the life of the temporary commission, now to sunset at year’s end, for another five years, but did so without recommendation for approval so the entire legislature can take up the issue.

“In short the Long Island Commission on Aquifer Protection [LICAP] has failed us at every turn,” said Karen Blumer, vice president of the Open Space Council. She that added three water providers, who profit from water sales, have a conflict of interest and should serve only an advisory rather than a voting role, while community representatives and those with science backgrounds should become voting members.

“Our groundwater is in toxic peril,” said Charles Bevington, another activist. “This is an opportunity to create a management agency, a trust for the public domain.”

“We need to have strong oversight and accountability,” said Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mt. Sinai). Currently, there are nine with voting power and another nine ex officio members.

But backers of the commission maintain there’s been significant progress in developing a better system for tracking pollution of the underground water supply, and improved efforts to conserve water resources help keep the groundwater from being depleted.

Stan Cary, the commission’s current chair, rejected claims that water suppliers have a conflict of interest, saying they have the largest stake in protecting the water supply. However, he told lawmakers the commission has not finished a plan because up to now it has been an all-volunteer effort.

He also warned that $200,000 in this year’s state budget to help fund the commission could disappear if the commission is not extended. He added that he believes the commission could complete its work in the next three years.

Legis. Bridget Fleming (D-Sag Harbor) worried that drastic change would only reverse progress already made at a time the South Fork is facing increased threats of chemical pollution at five sites, forcing some to rely on bottled water. “I don’t want to throw the baby out with the groundwater,” said Fleming.

Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said he has already gotten an amendment to the original bill that will add voting representative from the Solid and Water Conservation Districts in Nassau and Suffolk to the commission.

However, any changes Suffolk enacts must also be authorized by the Nassau Legislature. Frank Moroney, a Nassau legislative spokesman, said no action has yet been taken, but their legislature is ready to act, although minority Democrats have sought time to “iron out” membership issues with Suffolk.

But Sarah Meyland, a nonvoting commission representative, said stronger enforcement is needed immediately because water quality continues to deteriorate. “We need to move on to a new vehicle that can get us where we need to get. Action is what we need now,” she said.

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