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Is Underground Water Safe? Testing is Lagging

is underground safeJust how safe is our groundwater? Are there any contaminants in it after Hurricane Sandy? What are the conditions and trends in our waters and just how much water is moving through our aquifer system?

At one time not too long ago questions like these could be answered easily by looking at data collected by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The federal agency had all the needed funding to perform water monitoring in Nassau County, but this funding has been cut. They now rely on local support. The USGS will match by 30 percent any local funding, but getting the funds finalized has been challenging.

The county has been hammering out a contract with the USGS. Once it is approved in the Legislature, the county will commit to spending $140,000 a year. Long Island Water Conference is also completing its contract for $20,000 and the Nassau Suffolk Water Commissioners’ Association hopes to contribute $50,000. But none of the contracts are complete and the members of Water for Long Island worry important studies may not be performed this year in the county as a result.

“This information gives us a long term look at the conditions and trends of our water system,” said Center for Water Resources Management Director Sarah Meyland, a member of Water for Long Island. “Nassau County eliminated the contract out of their budget, Suozzi restored it and then Mangano eliminated it again four years ago. Each year it’s not renewed is a loss of information that can never be replaced.”

The environmental group had received a commitment in Sept. 2013 from County Executive Ed Mangano that the contract would be restored by Oct. 2013 but that hasn’t happened. She is concerned.

“We are raising the alarm because some of the data is collected only one time a year, in April, during a one to two week period when wells and streams are monitored all over Long Island,” Meyland said. “There’s a lot of preparation for this. You can’t just throw a switch and make it happen.”

The test takes a snapshot and it’s used as a comparison from year to year, said USGS supervisory hydrologist Ron Busciolano. “Every couple of years we make water level maps for all the major aquifers and a depth to water table map to show how far down below the surface you’d have to go before you hit the water table.”  The county said they remain committed to $140,000 a year for the USGS.

“As promised the DPW has indeed negotiated a contract with the USGS which includes a county share of approximately $140,000 per year,” said Nassau County Department of Public Works Press Secretary Michael Martino, but he couldn’t say if they’d complete the process before the April testing.  “This is so important it should be a part of the annual county budget,” said Gerald Ottavino from Point Lookout Civic Association. “The price tag is nominal.”

Legislator Don MacKenzie (R-Oyster Bay) is a former Oyster Bay water commissioner. He understands the importance of the study.  “I will work with the County Executive if it’s on the table to try to meet the deadline,” said MacKenzie. “The Legislature as a whole has become more aware of these issues so I think they will work to meet the timetable if possible.”

Long Island Water Conference Chairman Michael Levy said his group had been concerned and were lobbying both the state and county to get the contracts reissued with USGS.  “When we realized things weren’t moving we discussed contributing with our membership,” Levy said. “It’s unclear when the county will move forward and we are not waiting for them. We will sign our USGS contract shortly, I think before mid April.”

The Nassau Suffolk Water Commissioners’ Association is continuing to negotiate with USGS on their contract for $50,000. The organization’s president Howard Abbondondelo could not be reached by press time to confirm when the discussions would be complete.

Busciolano said he believes the Nassau Suffolk Water Commissioners’ Association is ironing out a one year contract, he wasn’t sure if one or two years were being considered by Long Island Water Conference but he did believe the county was considering a two year contract. “It’s been going slower than we’d hoped. This year is already half over,” he added.

Water for Long Island held a press conference last Wednesday to get the word out that time is running out to renew the contract with the USGS. Several people gathered for a discussion, including Legislator Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick).  “The contractual amount of money from the county with USGS is a pittance compared to the amount of information we will get,” said Denenberg. “The only way to monitor any contamination is to test.”

Denenberg said he’d offered amendments at the Legislature to return the USGS funding back into the budget. He said when the county did assist the USGS they ended up getting revenue in terms of grant money that offset the expenditure. “We need to protect our source of drinking water,” he said.

Meyland agreed, adding, “Good policy has to be based on good science. Right now that is missing.”

This article originally appeared in the March 14, 2014 issue of the Oyster Bay Guardian.  The featured photo also appeared on March 14, 2014 and is  Legislator Dave Denenberg joined representatives from different organization and citizens that belong to Water for Long Island at a press conference at Friends of the Bay where there was a great deal of discussion regarding groundwater testing.

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