Water for Long Island

The Drought Watch Is Over; Need to Conserve Groundwater Increases in NY

The extreme hot weather across the mid-west, west, and southern US  has contributed to record-setting temperatures for 2023.  This heat is just the beginning of what humans can expect our planet to be like in the future.  Hot and dry conditions mixed with extreme rain storms due to the higher amount of moisture warm air can hold.  Extreme flooding was mixed with extreme hot air plus violent storms: the worst-case scenario.  The East Coast had its own experience with high temperatures in August 2023. 

Long Island still does not have comprehensive water conservation programs in either Nassau or Suffolk Counties.  In February 2023, for the first time, the Suffolk County Water Authority adopted a new set of policies to limit the days and time of day when customers may irrigate their property. Following Nassau County's lead, SCWA adopted odd and even day water schedules based on street numbers for customers and no watering between 10 am and 4 pm  This is a promising change for SCWA.  Now, the goal is for all water suppliers on Long Island to achieve the 15% water use reduction during the summer months established by the NYS-DEC in 2016. 


Essential Information About Long Island's

Aquifer Systems

    1.    The groundwater stored in the aquifers beneath Long Island is a public resource that must be managed appropriately and continually monitored to ensure that the public's health, safety, and welfare are protected and that the resource itself is preserved in the most sustainable manner possible.  Presently, this level of attention is not being given to the groundwater.


   2.  Unlimited drinking water is not guaranteed to the residents of Long Island.  Unlike other parts of New York State and New York City, the residents of Long Island do not have access to drinkable surface water, and the New York City water supply is not an option for meeting future water needs, especially for Nassau County.  


   3.    In some parts of Nassau County, water withdrawals have exceeded sustainable levels of pumpage for some years.  Since the early 1990s, total water loss from the aquifer systems beneath Nassau County has regularly exceeded annual recharge.  This practice results in problems such as saltwater intrusion, reduced stream flow, and the spread of contamination plumes into deeper levels of the aquifers where most drinking water is withdrawn. 


   4.  In 2017, Long Island still has the largest number of state and federal Superfund sites, 258,  in New York State.  Nassau County has the largest concentration of contaminated sites of any county in New York State, with over 154 listed sites.  Remediation of these sites is lagging years behind what is acceptable.  Many sites have been known for decades, and progress on cleanup is slow.  Each year, if a site is not cleaned up, the groundwater plumes can spread further and deeper from the original source, polluting millions of gallons of additional groundwater.  Timely attention to these sites is grossly inadequate.  Even when the land at a contaminated site is cleaned up, the contaminated groundwater plume caused by the site may be left in place without cleanup.  The plume may then continue to spread through the groundwater system.  During clean-up operations, the cleaned groundwater may not always be returned to the aquifer system.  Instead, it is discharged as wastewater or to coastal waters and does not contribute to groundwater recharge.  This needs to change. 


    5.  In Suffolk County, due to the absence of centralized sewering (only 25% of Suffolk is sewered), untreated or poorly treated sewage (residential and commercial) is discharged back into the aquifers.  This practice is leading to the growing contamination of shallow groundwater, some of which flows quickly into coastal waters, adding to poor coastal water quality there, too.  


    6.  The NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is the state agency responsible for protecting the quality and quantity of Long Island's groundwater supply.  Presently, the agency is unable to meet the needs of Long Island or to provide full-scale oversight of this essential resource.  


    7.  The county health departments are responsible for the drinking water quality delivered by water suppliers, but they cannot assume the DEC's responsibilities for overall aquifer management.  


    8.  There are approximately 65 major public water suppliers on Long Island.  Their expertise is centered on drinking water production and delivery to the public.  It does not extend to regional groundwater management.  


    9.  70% of New York State residents have their water resources managed by public agencies known as water compacts. Most compacts oversee surface water resources that are shared with communities across state lines.  Long Island does not benefit from such an agency because it relies on groundwater that does not cross state boundaries.  Also, the NYS-DEC opposes being replaced by a groundwater compact.  Thus, Long Island has no groundwater resource managers or a full-time team of water experts dedicated to the constant monitoring, research, and assessment of its groundwater and sole source aquifer system.  

10.  NY State has reported groundwater withdrawals for Nassau County to be at least 15% above what the aquifers can sustainably provide.  This condition has existed for nearly two decades. In January 2016, the NYS DEC directed all public water suppliers on Long Island to reduce summer water withdrawals by 15% within three to four years. This is a very positive step to bring water waste under control. It has been six years since this mandate.  As of 2023, the DEC has not yet reported on the results of this effort or whether any public water supplier has successfully reduced summer water use by 15%.  Spot checks on various water suppliers show that no suppliers have reached the 15% goal or even a 10% level.

11.  2018 is the second of the three-four years that all water suppliers have been given to achieve at least a 15% reduction in summer water use by each district.  To reach this goal, both the water suppliers and the customers need to fully cooperate in doing their part to avoid water waste and excessive demand.  The main focus of this effort is to control peak summer water use.  

12.  The NYS DEC reports reviewing all the water conservation plans submitted by public water suppliers.  Then, suppliers will have to implement their plans and document water demand reductions.  Many water suppliers are addressing infrastructure issues first, such as water leak detection programs and upgrading and inspecting water meters for water consumption accuracy. 

13.  In 2018, the NYS DEC asked all managers of superfund sites in the state to test their plumes for the presence of 1,4 Dioxane.  This chemical is strongly associated with volatile organic compounds  (VOCs) because it is used to produce many VOCs.  The three VOCs most associated with 1,4 dioxane are:  TCA (trichloroethane), DCE (dichlorothene), and TCE (trichloroethylene).  The survey of sites is not expected to be completed before the end of 2019.  In early 2020, the results of the survey have not been made available to the public.  In 2021, the DEC reported on a view of landfills around the state for evidence of PFAS and 1,4 dioxane.  No study has been undertaken for superfund sites as first reported. 

14.  The USGS released one of its early reports on work undertaken on the Long Island Groundwater Sustainability Study in July 2020.  The report confirmed that saltwater intrusion had advanced much closer to the island's shoreline than once believed.  In fact, saltwater intrusion is now present in all three principal aquifers beneath Queens County.  Significant intrusion into the Magothy is now present in the center of Queens County, and intrusion in the Lloyd aquifer is north of Kennedy Airport.  Significant intrusion at levels of 5,000 mg/l of chlorides was reported directly beneath the south shore coastline in Nassau County.  

15.  In 2021, 21 water suppliers on Long Island received compliance waivers because they have drinking water wells that do not meet the new drinking water standards for 1,4 dioxane, PFOA, or PFOS.  During the waiver period, suppliers installed new treatment systems to remove these chemicals from the drinking water.   

16.  In 2023, the DEC has fallen further behind in its oversight of the LI Groundwater Sustainability Study.  The USGS partner is doing its work to investigate the aquifer system beneath Suffolk County.  The USGS has nearly completed its investigations into the groundwater in western Long Island (Nassau and Queens Counties).  The DEC held the first Advisory Committee meeting on November 9, 2023, nearly a year after the November 2022 committee meeting.  How many ways can the DEC fail the residents of Long Island?