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LI officials urge delay in tapping water wells in Queens

Nassau lawmakers do not want the permit on the wells renewed until a $6 million environmental study is done.

Nassau County lawmakers said at a news conference on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, that a proposed permit renewal allowing New York City to reactivate 68 dormant groundwater wells in Queens could threaten drinking water for millions of Long Islanders. (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

The state should not renew a permit to allow New York City to reactivate 68 dormant groundwater wells in southeastern Queens in emergencies until the first phase of a geological study is complete, Nassau lawmakers and environmental activists said Thursday.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, State Sens. Todd Kaminsky and Elaine Phillips, North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth and other officials said the proposed 10-year permit renewal could threaten the sole source of drinking water for nearly 3 million Long Islanders.

The officials wrote to state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos urging him to delay approval of the permit until the U.S. Geological Survey completes the first stage of a $6 million state-funded study of regional groundwater supplies. The review is expected to be completed this spring.

“This should not be viewed as a battle with New York City. We are not adversaries,” Curran said. “We just want to see what the science says first.”

Lawmakers and environmentalists say tapping the wells — which reach into aquifers that supply drinking water for Nassau and Suffolk residents — could invite saltwater intrusion into fresh water supplies and change the direction of groundwater contamination plumes.

“We must look at the science,” said Kaminsky (D-Long Beach). “We must not be careless and wanton with granting permits for pumping for no good reason.”

The city has a permit, which expired last year, allowing it to draw up to 68 million gallons daily from former Jamaica Water Service wells for emergencies such as water shortages. The wells have not been used since 2007.

New York uses a complex system of aqueducts and tunnels to transport surface water from across the state to serve its 9 million customers.

The city’s Department of Environmental Protection filed for the permit renewal at the end of November.

DEP spokeswoman Tara Deighan said the city would use the wells only “during rare emergencies. DEP only intends to utilize the groundwater system under a limited set of circumstances, including drought protection, unforeseen loss or planned repair of critical supply, and potential for reciprocal use with Nassau County.”

State DEC spokesman Sean Mahar said the agency is “carefully reviewing” the city’s application. “DEC remains committed to protecting Long Island’s water resources,” Mahar said.

In June, the Senate passed a bill sponsored by Phillips (R-Flower Hill) limiting the city’s ability to use the well only in cases of emergency, such as a prolonged drought. The measure stalled in the Democratic-controlled Assembly.

“A renewal for New York City could mean a denial for Long Island’s right to clean water,” said Phillips, who is planning a Feb. 28 public hearing if the permit is approved.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said she has “grave concerns” about the city’s plan.

“Utilizing Long Island’s water in times of drought for New York City is literally a plan to rob Peter to pay Paul,” she said. “We have no plan B here on Long Island. This is it.”

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