The Bethpage water tower is seen on Sept. 12, 2012.

The Bethpage water tower is seen on Sept. 12, 2012. Credit: Howard Schnapp

On the theory that big problems require big solutions, we applaud state officials for the $585 million plan they unveiled recently to attack the awful groundwater plume in Bethpage.

It’s a monster — more than 4 miles long and 2 miles wide at its largest, and up to 900 feet deep. And it’s moving south from its origins at the former Northrop Grumman and Navy facilities by a foot per day, threatening other water supplies with numerous toxic contaminants.

State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo have dialed up the intensity of their fight against the plume in the face of continued recalcitrance from Northrop Grumman and the Navy. Good for them.

Based on new detailed modeling of the plume, the DEC proposes to stop its movement by drilling 24 wells and pumping as much as 17.5 million gallons per day, which would be cleaned at several treatment plants. The water mostly would be returned to groundwater, through recharge basins and irrigation, critical to prevent shrinking the aquifer. It’s an ambitious 30-year plan, and an aggressive way to meet the challenge.

After digesting public comment, the DEC plans to move forward whether or not Northrop Grumman and the Navy are on board. If they’re not, the state would pay first and sue later to recover costs. That’s the right move. History shows that polluters like Northrop Grumman and the Navy don’t act aggressively unless forced to do so. And if the Navy in particular drags its heels, our federal elected officials — especially Sen. Chuck Schumer, who has been strong on this issue — must push it to do the right thing.

It’s time to put the DEC plan in motion, to finally clean this terrible mess. 

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