The Bethpage Water District is installing a new well outside the boundaries of a toxic groundwater plume that has forced the supplier to spend millions of dollars removing contaminants from drinking water since the late 1980s.
The well, discussed since 2005, is being drilled on a 4-acre parcel along South Park Drive in Bethpage State Park that the district has leased for 99 years. It will be the district's ninth well and should be operating by next year, officials said.
Three wells used by the 33,000-customer district have been affected by toxic groundwater plumes from former Navy and Northrop Grumman aircraft manufacturing operations in Bethpage.
Distributing water from the new well would be more cost-effective than using and treating water from wells in the plume's path, said Michael Boufis, Bethpage Water District superintendent.
"I think long-term, it's important for the district to be able to develop sources [of water] outside the plume because nothing is certain," said Rich Humann, president and CEO of H2M. His engineering firm works for Bethpage and other water districts. "Based on what we know today we're completely prepared, but does that hold true two years, five years from now?"
The total project cost hasn't been set because the building housing the well is still being designed.
Drilling the new well is not related to the discovery of elevated radium levels, officials said. The district announced last month that one well at its Sophia Street treatment plant had higher levels of radium than others in the district.
The state and federal standard for radium in treated drinking water is 5 picocuries per liter averaged over a year based on quarterly tests. Over three quarters, untreated water at the well was nearing that level, prompting the district to ask the Navy and Northrop Grumman for access to monitoring wells near the Sophia Street plant to test for radium.
The district is awaiting results of the Navy well sampling, Boufis said.
Bethpage has not received the results of its sampling at three Northrop Grumman wells, but the company said preliminary results revealed radium levels within the standards and below levels at the Sophia Street station, said Tim Paynter, communications director for Northrop Grumman's military aircraft systems and international programs.
The company declined to release the results, saying the numbers have not been verified.
"Northrop Grumman . . . remains committed to working with those governmental agencies on the Bethpage environmental issues," Paynter said.
The water district has since asked for access to six other Northrop Grumman operating wells. Paynter said the company would wait for guidance from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health on whether to grant access.
Marci Natale, deputy director of public affairs for the Department of Health, said in a statement earlier this month that the agency "does not consider there to be any elevated health risks associated with radium in the water delivered by the Bethpage Water District."