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State lawmakers push water quality bill

A bill to protect Long Island watersheds from pollution is getting a renewed push from two state lawmakers in the final week of the legislative session.

Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) and state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) have submitted a new version of the "Long Island Water Quality Control Act," which they say should come up for a vote early next week before the State Legislature adjourns next Thursday.

Sweeney had filed a version of the bill in May, but LaValle held off on introducing a companion measure until Tuesday, saying he wanted to receive feedback from various stakeholders -- including local municipalities -- to square away some of the issues that kept the bill from passing last year.

A key change includes setting general guidelines on pesticide use instead of specific mandates that would have eliminated the outright use of certain pesticides. Farmers and building industry groups had complained the pesticide restrictions could affect business.

LaValle said that by making the changes, he and Sweeney were "trying to chart a course that will get the bill to move in both houses."

"There has been a lot of support that has developed for doing this and it's important to build upon that support," Sweeney said, referring to environmental groups that have long pressed for stronger protections of Long Island's underground water supply.

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, said that while he would have liked to see "stronger regulation sooner . . . this bill seems to be paving the way to improved practices for water protection."

Other changes to the bill include increasing the number of members appointed to a regional water quality protection panel from seven to nine, to provide an appointment for one member from a nonprofit environmental group and another from the water supply industry.

The measure, which aims to reduce nitrogen and pesticide levels in water, also would require new developments to install denitrification systems.

Joseph Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farmers Bureau, said he and his board of directors plan to review the bill in further detail this week to determine if they have any issues with the measure or possible recommendations for the two sponsors.

"We want to make sure our guys are not mandated to do something that they're not prepared to do at this time," he said.

Sarah J. Meyland, director of the Center for Water Resources Management at the New York Institute of Technology, also said she had some reservations about the measure, including whether there would be adequate funding for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which would oversee several components of the bill.

"DEC is already at such low funding levels," she said. "To pile on more duties on the staff without any more money is crazy."

State & Region