The "old normal" was when we used as much water as we wanted because there was an "endless supply" and because water was cheap, excessive water use was a way of life.
The "new normal" is drastically different. Residents of Long Island need to know why and to join the movement to change water use where we live.
WHY WE MUST CHANGE?
Long Island has historically had some of the cheapest drinking water in the U.S. Why?
Because the groundwater we used was very clean and easy to reach; just drill a well anywhere and you hit water. It did not require much treatment and it did not need to be piped very far to get it to homes and businesses.
Today, "clean" groundwater is hard to find and most drinking water must be treated to remove dangerous chemicals before it is sent to you for all your water needs. Treating groundwater adds to the cost of drinking water.
Across the U.S., water costs have gone up significantly. Water prices have risen as much as 80% in parts of the country. There are concerns that "millions of ordinary Americans are facing rising and unaffordable bills for running water," according to The Guardian newspaper (June 23, 2020). Research by The Guardian found that rising bills are not just hurting the poorest, but also, increasingly, average working Americans.
Increasing the price of water has been a traditional way to promote water conservation. Thus, it is no surprise that personal water use has been on the decline around the country for several decades. But, not on Long Island.
THE PRICE OF WATER ON LONG ISLAND IS ABOUT TO GET EXPENSIVE
Due to new treatment rules, where 1,4 Dioxane, PFOS and PFOA are found in the drinking water, water suppliers must install and operate highly expensive new treatment systems. These costs will be passed along to customers, at levels reaching hundreds of millions of dollars for Long Islanders, plus the cost of operation.
This trend has already started. The Suffolk County Water Authority has now added a flat fee of $80 per year to all customers in addition to their bills for actual water use. This fee is intended to fund new treatment systems to purify drinking water and make it drinkable. Other water suppliers will likely follow.
THE RIPPLE EFFECTS OF HIGH WATER USE
The excessive use of water on Long Island has other impacts beyond just water. The water supply industry is the largest single energy consumption sector on Long Island during the summer. The 300 to 400% increase in water use in the summer drives the dramatic increase in energy use too. Power companies must build sufficient electricity capacity to meet peak summer energy demand that is partly driven by high energy use by water suppliers for pumping and treating water. The high water use in the summer is almost entirely due to outdoor water use - lawn and gardening irrigation, and pools.
All the extra water pumped has to be treated thus, water suppliers must build extra treatment systems just to handle summer water demand. Ironically, little of this very expensive water is used for drinking; most of it is used on grass, landscapes and gardens, parks, and outdoor recreation activities. None of this water goes back into the aquifers. High water use impacts both our water bills and energy bills.
Environmentally, high demand for water promotes a depletion of groundwater, a loss of stream flow and declining pond levels, the spread of pollution in the aquifers, and saltwater intrusion along the coasts.
HOW CAN EVERY LONG ISLANDER DO THEIR PART TO CONSERVE WATER?
1. Use less water outdoors. Decide to use less water on your lawns. Plant smaller areas that need watering. Transition to different plants and grasses (native and drought-tolerant) for your landscaping and lawns.
2. Don't waste water indoors or outdoors. Fix leaks, dripping faucets and running toilets.
3. Make water conservation a way of life.
4. Read your water bills (to know how much water you consume) and work to bring down the amount of water you use by at least 15%.