The Environment

County Executive Curran calls on state to halt NYC's well permits

Experts: Having city draw water from L.I.'s aquifers could be catastrophic


Nassau County Executive Laura Curran urged New York State last week not to renew permits for 68 wells in Jamaica, Queens, until a study into the long-term effects of using one of Long Island’s main drinking water sources is completed.

At a news conference on Feb. 1, Curran was joined by New York State Sens. Todd Kaminsky and Elaine Phillips, Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth, Citizens Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Adrienne Esposito and dozens of supporters who said that a proposal to renew a 10-year permit could threaten the Lloyd aquifer, the sole source of drinking water for millions of Long Islanders.

Curran and others called on the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation to request that the first phase of a U.S. Geologic Survey study is completed before the DEC renews a permit that would allow New York City to pump water from a series of wells in Queens. They also requested that a comprehensive water resources management plan is prepared for Long Island.

“We are together today to ask the DEC [to] take notice of the amount of concern we have about renewing the permit to use the wells before we know the science,” Curran said in a statement. “Without the science we will not know the real impact of New York City drawing water from the Lloyd aquifer.”

“Casual drilling into the Lloyd without demonstrated urgency is [a] grave mistake that we cannot afford to make,” added Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach.

Renewing the permits for the Queens wells, which expired at the beginning of the year, would enable New York City residents to have a back-up supply of water in the case of a drought, according to Esposito. She said in July that it has become necessary for New York City to re-open the wells because the city is planning to shut down an aqueduct that transports water from upstate New York into the city.

Esposito told the Herald that she is fearful that re-opening the Queens wells, which have not been used since 2007, would reduce Long Island’s drinking water supply. Long Island is designated as a sole source aquifer, which means that all of its drinking water comes from aquifers underground. Officials have said that three million people on Long Island share only three major aquifers, and that the Lloyd aquifer — the oldest and deepest — is vulnerable to saltwater intrusion.

“Our aquifers are already under assault and years of over pumping and mismanagement are contaminating the groundwater,” Kaminsky said. “The pristine Lloyd aquifer is a birthright for Long Islanders and a source of water for the rest of the state in case of a catastrophic emergency.”

“On behalf of the Long Beach City Council, and our residents, we urge the DEP and DEC to support the protection of the Lloyd aquifer, our most precious resource, eliminate reactivation of the Lloyd’s wells from their plan, and await real, in-the-ground data from the USGS Groundwater Sustainability Study until making any decisions that could dramatically affect the future of Long Island water,” City Council President Anthony Eramo said in a statement.

If the New York City Department of Environmental Protection is successful in its bid to re-open the wells in Queens, the DEP has the potential to take 62 million gallons of water per day from the aquifers, according to the draft environmental impact statement.

“We can’t give them our water, we don’t have it to give,” said Esposito, who also said at public hearings that the plan would exacerbate a drought on Long Island. “We have to preserve what we have because there’s nowhere else to go.”

Other environmentalists worry about possible contamination from the wells. As the 68 wells drain water from the aquifers, the water table would sink, and more salt water from the Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean could infiltrate the aquifers. The Lloyd aquifer, for example, is on the cusp of having saltwater intrusion and may be pushed over the limit by New York City’s drainage of the aquifer, according to Sarah Meyland, the director of the Center for Water Resources Management at the New York Institute of Technology.

“It would be catastrophic for the City of Long Beach because all their water comes from the Lloyd aquifer,” Meyland said.

“The reactivation of these wells presents a serious threat to Long Island’s sole source aquifer, and a renewal for New York City could be a denial of Long Islanders’ right to clean water,” Phillips said.

Depleting the water could also change the flow of plumes, which carry pollutants. In Bethpage, where the Northrop Grumman plant produced equipment for the military for World War II, pollutants flow into the Long Island Sound.

To prevent these pollutants from contaminating the sound, the Town of Oyster Bay installed remediation wells in the path of the plume to clean up the water. Once the water table decreases, these plumes would no longer flow into the sound. Instead, they would flow into Queens, where there are no remediation wells — and it could take years to install one.

Anthony Rifilato contributed to this story.