Environmentalists gather in Yaphank to call for stricter regulation of...

Environmentalists gather in Yaphank to call for stricter regulation of septic systems and tougher enforcement of existing water pollution laws on Monday, June 6. Credit: James Carbone, 2011

Protecting the quality of Suffolk's drinking water -- and surface waters -- is so important that even a largely internal study can set off alarm bells. That's what happened this week when environmentalists got together to say that a county water management plan was scientifically accurate, but not sufficiently activist.

As the county's Department of Health Services turns the draft study into a final one, Suffolk should express a greater sense of urgency, and environmental groups can afford to ratchet down the alarms a bit.

Since the last study in 1987, this draft shows a significant increase in nitrogen in two aquifers, the Upper Glacial, which supplies today's water, and the deeper Magothy, the pristine source of tomorrow's water. Both levels for now are below the 10 parts per million state drinking water standard. But humans can safely drink more nitrogen than the sensitive ecosystems of our bays can absorb and stay healthy.

Environmentalists want the study to be more concrete about remedial steps -- such as wider sewering and better septic systems -- to slow the impact of development on water quality. The department says those now critical of the study were consulted as it evolved.

As the county finds out about the cost and efficiency of new septic systems, for example, the study should lay out the options in finer detail. Together, officials and activists should work hard to make this study the sharpest possible tool for keeping Suffolk's water safe.