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Suffolk OKs Long Island Commission for Aquifer Protection

The Suffolk County Legislature Tuesday afternoon took the first step in creating an islandwide aquifer protection panel charged with evaluating Long Island's drinking water quality, threats and oversight needs.

The full legislature voted to create a Long Island Commission for Aquifer Protection.

Paul Granger, a member of the Long Island Water Conference -- a coalition of public and private water suppliers and industry experts -- said the vote was "the first real step toward bi-county cooperation" on the issue.

"There's no wall that separates our water," he said. "We all drink from the same well."

Similar legislation has passed committee in Nassau County, but has not yet been scheduled for a vote.

If approved in both counties, the commission will be composed of a nine-member volunteer board focused on creating an annual report about the aquifers, as well as a management plan to oversee the resources. A subcommittee will look at water infrastructure needs and long-term risks to the water supply due to global temperature changes.

Each county executive and legislative presiding officer will appoint one member and each county board of health will do the same. One seat apiece will also go to Suffolk County Water Authority, Nassau-Suffolk Water Commissioners Association and Long Island Water Conference.

The commission will expire in five years and will not have paid staff because water industry members will do the work, Suffolk County Water Authority chief executive Jeffrey W. Szabo said last month during a public hearing.

Bill Stegemann, conservation chair for the Long Island chapter of the Sierra Club, opposed the legislation during the same public hearing, saying it had political appointees and "entities that profit from extracting the resource."

"It's disappointing," he said after the public hearing. "I feel another commission is not going to help. We've had lots of studies and commissions."

With Paul LaRocco

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