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Source: Newsday

Remedies for Suffolk water quality weighed


Posted: September 29, 2011
Originally Published: September 27, 2011

Protecting Suffolk County's water quality will require aggressive action, but solutions are varied and could be costly, stakeholders said at a state Assembly hearing Tuesday.

State tax incentives for new septic systems, strict pesticide regulations, greater open space preservation near wells, and a limit on housing density in areas without sewers were among the proposals offered to four assemblymen present.

About a dozen experts -- from engineers to environmental advocates to the head of Suffolk's water authority -- testified at Babylon Town Hall about the rising level of contaminants in the county's groundwater.

The hearing was held 10 months after a December study released by the county showed "a continued gradual decline in water quality" since 1987.

"The good news is that our public drinking water supply system is fundamentally safe, due to an exhaustive array of protection, monitoring and management measures," said Walter Dawydiak, an engineer and acting director of environmental quality at the Suffolk Department of Health Services. "The bad news is that several contaminants have predictably increased with population growth."

Water pumped from underground aquifers has become polluted over the past two decades, with nitrogen seeping in from septic systems and fertilizer use, the report found.

The event was chaired by Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst). Assembs. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), Joseph Saladino (R-Massapequa) and Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham) took part. About 50 people attended.

The cost of keeping high-quality drinking water will rise exponentially if the county does not keep contaminants from entering the groundwater, said James Gaughran, chairman of the Suffolk County Water Authority.

For example, Gaughran said the water authority has 108 filtration units to remediate wells affected by man-made contamination. "Such filters can cost between $500,000 and $800,000," he said.

Advocates, including Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, proposed a single regulatory agency dedicated to monitoring the quality of water in both Nassau and Suffolk instead of the current "fragmented system" made up of more than 50 water districts.

"We need one entity with responsibility and control for the drinking water of Long Island," Esposito said.

In addition, public education on disposing household chemicals, pharmaceuticals and using fertilizers -- all of which have shown to contribute to water pollution -- hasn't been enough, some speakers said.

It is time for government to step in, said Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society.

"You've made laws before to protect us from ourselves," he said. "And now you need to do it again."