Challenges to Long Island's water resources are well known but what's been missing, say environmental activists, is a single entity to oversee management of those water resources.
At the third of a series of "water security" community meetings called by Suffolk County Legis. William R Spencer, D-Huntington, and Nassau County Legis. Judi Bosworth, D-Great Neck, Wednesday at the Cold Spring Harbor Library, the idea of a bi-county Long Island Compact to comprehensively oversee water resource management for the region surfaced.
The concept was broached before representatives of environmental organizations, civic associations, business and government agencies on hand as members of the public shared their ideas and concerns about water quality management issues on Long Island.
Also in attendance were Assemblyman-elect Chad Lupinacci, Huntington Town board member Mark Mayoka, and Suffolk County Legis. Kara Hahn, D-Port Jefferson, chair of the legislature‘s Environment, Planning and Agriculture committee.
Unlike other areas in the state, which rely on surface water for their drinking water, Long Island is principally supplied from an underground aquifer, tapped with wells and replenished through the filtration of rainwater through the ground.
There are well documented challenges to Long Island’s precious aquifer -- nitrates, VOCs, pesticides and plumes among them. And more recently the danger of seawater infiltration into the drinking water has become a growing concern.
To meet those challenges, over the years a patchwork of agencies and organizations have put plans in place to enhance waste water treatment methodologies, control the use of fertilizers, pesticides and certain organic chemicals, and preserve open space for clean recharge of the aquifer.
Suffolk County adopted a comprehensive water management plan in 1987, and an update to that has been circulating for the last year or so -- a draft of which is available online -- which delineates specific goals and objectives through the year 2030 to protect the region’s aquifer.
The problem, said Spencer, is simple: “There are many levels of government, but no one authority.”
“What management systems we have in place are understaffed, overextended, and ill-equipped,” agreed Bosworth."We've turned to the NYS DEC for too long. They're not water managers."
“There are sixty five water purveyors, but no single organization to monitor water for our whole aquifer,” said Dorothea Cappadona, chairman of the Lloyd Harbor Conservation Board.
Wednesday’s conversation gravitated quickly to the need for an umbrella organization to replace piecemeal efforst with a single comprehensive management system for the region's water resources.
Sarah Meyland, director of the Center for Water Resources Management at NYIT, spoke forcefully in favor of the creation of a Long Island Aquifer Compact. "The rest of New York State relies on management Compacts that have the authority to manage the resources for all stakeholders in the resource," she said. "Long Island needs the services of a Compact too."
The typical annual budget for compacts upstate, Meyland estimated, is $5-6 million dollars after startup.
That’s “not a lot of money” for a single regional entity to manage the water resources of Nassau and Suffolk, said Hahn.
“We can look at various ways to fund something like that," she said. "Yes, we have a comprehensive management plan that’s being drafted, but it’s a matter of administering effectively, and getting both Suffolk and Nassau County on board rather than doing it piecemeal.”
“There are models to create a management system from -- a compact, or whatever you want to call it,” concluded Bosworth. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”