Water reuse is an idea whose time has come
Long Island faces a water crisis, both to the fresh drinking water aquifers that sustain our daily lives and the salty coastal waters that enrich it. The crisis is reflected by what has been a steady, decades-long deterioration in water quality, from excess nitrogen fueled by human sewage, to toxic plumes and spills, all the while “mining” our supply by taking out more water than is being replenished.
Simply put, while several dozen laws and regulations provide the legal basis for a number of valuable water-protection programs, the evidence indicates that collectively we are failing to adequately protect Long Island’s waters and waterways.
Water reuse should be a key strategy to reverse this failure. Water reuse turns wastewater from a liability into an asset, improving quality while reducing pumping demands on the drinking water aquifers by using this water for another beneficial purpose instead of dumping it into the nearest stream or bay.
Reuse can simultaneously achieve water quality and quantity benefits, as evidenced by one of two reuse projects on Long Island. This project involves Suffolk County’s Indian Island golf course in Riverhead and the adjacent Town of Riverhead sewage treatment plant. The initiative, which began last spring, sends highly treated effluent to the golf course to irrigate the grass. The benefits? Two thousand, four hundred fewer pounds of nitrogen discharged into Peconic Bay and 63 million fewer gallons of water pumped from the stressed underlying aquifers.
This project is a mere drop in the bucket regarding water reuse here. For example, in Suffolk County, there are several dozen sewage treatment plants and golf courses within one-half mile of each other, as well as many other possible targets for wastewater. The comprehensive implementation of reuse projects could significantly reduce nitrogen in coastal waters and our drinking water aquifer and mean billions of gallons of fresh water never pumped from the stressed aquifers. That would protect the flow in streams and rivers.
To best guide this implementation, we’re calling on environmental leaders in the public and private sectors to fund a Long Island-wide feasibility study or road map that prioritizes reuse projects based on financial, logistical and environmental criteria. This blueprint would allow us, in a thoughtful way, to advance the most effective reuse projects providing the greatest water-management benefits.
About 2.3 billion gallons of water are reused daily in the United States, most notably in California, Florida and the arid Southwest. Let’s take a major step forward in managing and protecting our vulnerable coastal waters and drinking-water supply by adding Long Island to that list.
John Turner is the conservation policy advocate for the Seatuck Environmental Association in Islip, where Enrico Nardone is the executive director.