Earth Matters: L.I. groundwater about to get pricey


At the risk of sounding like a joke, let me be the first to share with you that the Department of Energy this week proposed rolling back efficiency standards for shower heads—which were passed in 1992 in response to severe droughts—following President Trump’s dissatisfaction with water pressure while bathing.

As one can imagine, any increase in water use adds pressure to our already-stressed environment, but the timing is of particular note: He did so in the height of summer, while three entire U.S. states (Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico) are in the midst of a drought.

Nassau County itself is currently in a “drought watch,” the first of four levels of state drought advisories (“watch,” “warning,” “emergency” and “disaster”), as determined by the Department of Environmental Conservation. Rainfall in our area is 6 inches below typical rainfall at this time of year.

According to the DEC’s website, during a “drought watch” there are no statewide mandatory water use restrictions in place, but residents are strongly encouraged to voluntarily conserve water.

And just as the globe is warming year over year, and weeks are passing like this recent one where much of New England had temperatures that were 2-4 degrees above normal, we need to re-examine the old and new normal:

The old normal  was when we used as much water as we wanted because there was an endless supply. And because water was cheap, excessive water use was a way of life.

The new normal is drastically different. Residents of Long Island need to join the movement to greatly reduce water use where we live.

According to Water For Long Island, a non-profit concerned about our local drinking water conditions, Long Island has historically had some of the cheapest drinking water in the United States.

Why? Because the groundwater we used was very clean and easy to reach; just drill a well anywhere and you hit water. It did not require much treatment and it did not need to be piped very far to get it to homes and businesses.

Today clean” groundwater is hard to find and most drinking water must be treated to remove dangerous chemicals before it is sent to you for all your water needs. Treating groundwater adds to the cost of drinking water.

Across the United States, water costs have gone up significantly. Water prices have risen as much as 80 percent in parts of the country. There are concerns that “millions of ordinary Americans are facing rising and unaffordable bills for running water,” according to The Guardian newspaper (June 23, 2020). Research by The Guardian found that rising bills are not just hurting the poorest, but also increasingly average working Americans.

Increasing the price of water has been a traditional way to promote water conservation. Thus, it is no surprise that personal water use has been on the decline around the country for several decades. But not on Long Island.

Due to new treatment rules, where 1,4-dioxane, PFOS and PFOA are found in the drinking water water suppliers must install and operate highly expensive new treatment systems. These costs will be passed along to customers at levels reaching hundreds of millions of dollars for Long Islanders, plus the cost of operation.

This trend has already started. The Suffolk County Water Authority has now added a flat fee of $80 per year to all customers in addition to their bills for actual water use. This fee is intended to fund new treatment systems to purify drinking water and make it drinkable. Other water suppliers will likely follow.

The excessive use of water on Long Island has other impacts beyond just water. The water supply industry is the largest single energy consumption sector on Long Island during the summer. The 300 percent to 400 percent increase in water use in the summer drives the dramatic increase in energy use, too. Power companies must build sufficient electricity capacity to meet peak summer energy demand that is partly driven by high energy use by water suppliers for pumping and treating water. The high water use in the summer is almost entirely due to outdoor water use — lawn and gardening irrigation, and pools.

All the extra water pumped has to be treated and thus water suppliers must build extra treatment systems just to handle summer water demand. Ironically, little of this very expensive water is used for drinking; most of it is used on grass, landscapes and gardens, parks and outdoor recreation activities.

None of this water goes back into the aquifers.

High water use impacts both our water bills and energy bills.

Environmentally high demand for water promotes a depletion of groundwater, a loss of stream flow and declining pond levels, the spread of pollution in the aquifers and saltwater intrusion along the coasts.

– Use less water outdoors. Decide to use less water on your lawns. Plant smaller areas that need watering. Transition to different plants and grasses (native and drought-tolerant) for your landscaping and lawns.
– Don’t waste water indoors or outdoors. Fix leaks, dripping faucets and running toilets.
– Make water conservation a way of life.
– Read your water bills (to know how much water you consume) and work to bring down the amount of water you use by at least 15 percent.
– And vote in November. One wouldn’t think this would be a way to conserve water, but if we intend to keep protecting our natural resources, then in 2020, yes- this has now been added to the list.


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