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Water suppliers to fund Nassau aquifer system

U.S. Geological Service hydrologists Anthony Chu, left and

U.S. Geological Service hydrologists Anthony Chu, left and Frederick Stumm demonstrate a monitoring well at Stehli beach in Bayville, one of several used to test for the intrusion of salt water into the Lloyd Aquifer. The well was last tested sometime in 2009 or 2010. (May 21, 2012) Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Public and private water suppliers in Nassau County will help pay for monitoring water levels in Long Island's aquifer system -- work the county stopped paying for two years ago.

The U.S. Geological Survey this month will begin measuring the water table and evaluating fluctuations in the aquifer under Nassau, said Ron Busciolano, a supervisory hydrologist at the agency's Water Science Center in Coram. The county stopped funding the work in 2010 amid budget constraints.

The 19 public water districts in the county and at least a dozen private suppliers have agreed to cover the costs for one year.

Each supplier will pay $1,500, said Dennis Kelleher, president of H2M Water and public relations chairman for the Long Island Water Conference, which reached out to private suppliers for funding. Nassau County will also contribute, although Department of Public Works spokesman Mike Martino would not say by how much. The county had been paying at least $150,000 annually for monitoring.

The $75,000 program will study water levels in the three primary aquifers that supply drinking water to Long Island -- the Upper Glacial, Magothy and Lloyd. The USGS has about 65 monitoring wells throughout the county, some checked continuously, others monthly or yearly.

"This data is really useful to monitoring the pulse of the aquifers," Busciolano said.

Suffolk County and New York City have monitoring contracts with the USGS.

"This was something that needed to be put back in the budget and needed to be done," said Robert McEvoy, an Oyster Bay water commissioner and president of the Nassau/Suffolk Water Commissioners' Association, which represents public districts.

The program represents the first time so many groups have agreed to collectively fund monitoring work.

"We've been working hard to get the groups that use the water to be stewards of the water as well," Busciolano said. "This is hopefully a good first step in trying to move forward this way."

Monitoring helps water suppliers see changes over time and pinpoint specific events, such as droughts, to help in decision-making.

"There's a hole in the data in Nassau County," Hicksville Water Commissioner Karl Schweitzer said. "We need that data to kind of fill in the gaps. This is really something that was sorely missed."

Earlier this year, USGS hydrologists said sampling of some wells in the Lloyd Aquifer showed saltwater contamination was growing at locations along the North Shore. Saltwater also has started to show up in the aquifers along the South Shore, officials said. The wells, however, were only sampled because the county funding for regular monitoring ended.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, applauded the move, but said long-term funding is needed.

"In the scale of the county budget, it's minuscule, but in the big picture of protecting our drinking water, it's huge," she said. "It's a small amount of money with a big value to the public."