New York City wants Long Island’s water. We shouldn’t give it to the city, period. Here’s the thing: If granted state approval, the city could just take it. Gov. Andrew Cuomo mustn’t allow that to happen.
Long Island has been designated a sole-source aquifer, meaning that all of the drinking water for Nassau and Suffolk counties comes from cavernous pockets hundreds of feet below the surface. Once upon a time, these stores were the purest water you could drink. The Upper Glacial Aquifer, one of three major aquifers beneath the Island’s surface, formed during the last ice age, 10,000 to 20,000 years ago — long before pollutants and pathogens had contaminated underground water stores.
Highly toxic chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, and human and animal waste have slowly been making their way from the ground into our aquifers for decades — pretty much since Levittown was built in the 1940s and ’50s and Long Island became an industrial hub for the military and aerospace industries. Grumman, the Island’s manufacturing giant, moved out in 1994, but the waste it left behind remains in the soil, steadily percolating downward toward our drinking-water supply.
The faster we draw water from the aquifers, the faster surface water will be pulled by hydraulic action into them — along with all those pollutants. At the same time, more and more saltwater from the Atlantic Ocean will intrude into the aquifers as well.
That’s why the state Department of Environmental Conservation must not renew New York City’s now-expired permit that would allow it to take water from our supply. If the city were permitted to suck out 68 million gallons a day from these stores — more than the entire Town of North Hempstead consumes — the long-term effects could be catastrophic for us.
New York City argues that it has the right to draw water from the aquifers. Queens and Brooklyn are part of Long Island, after all, and the 68 city-owned wells from which it would draw water are old ones, located in southeastern Queens.
The aquifers from which the city would take the water, however, extend farther east into Nassau County, so the water we need for survival would go to the five boroughs. That would be unfair and unjust. The city has other sources — in particular, upstate reservoirs — from which it can obtain water, while Nassau does not.
City officials say the water would be drawn only in emergencies. That’s not what they claimed in 2014, however, when they said they needed to extract water from the Island’s aquifers while the city repaired two aqueduct pipes that connect those upstate reservoirs to the boroughs. According to the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, millions of gallons of water were — and still are — leaking from the city’s Delaware aqueduct, in upstate Newburgh. Its pipes have been leaking since the 1990s, according to the Times-Herald Record. City officials said in 2014 that they hoped to fix the problem in 2020 — at a cost of $1 billion.
In a 2014 Herald editorial, “L.I. is desperate for a water-management plan,” we called on the State Legislature to enact, and the governor to sign, a measure that would require a long-term management plan to protect and preserve the Island’s sole-source drinking-water supply. The Legislature and governor did just that.
We must remind Cuomo of the legislation’s precise wording: “Long Island’s water resources are unique in the region, unusual in the nation, and of exceptional importance to the state of New York because of the economic, environmental and public health values that Long Island’s water resources provide to the millions of people who live and recreate on Long Island.”
The measure created the Long Island Commission for Aquifer Protection, which drafted a management plan last year. It held its first hearing to seek comment on it at the Suffolk County Legislature in Riverhead on Jan. 17.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat from Baldwin, called on the state during a news conference last week to hold off on approving New York City’s plans to draw water from Long Island’s aquifers until the U.S. Geological Survey completes a thorough examination of the aquifers and weighs in on the matter.
As far as we’re concerned, the state DEC must never approve the city’s plans. Simply put, Long Island — Nassau and Suffolk counties — can no longer tolerate the abuse of our aquifers.