Local officials rally to prevent NYC from reopening water wells

Local officials rally to prevent NYC from reopening water wells
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran (center) is surrounded by local officials as she calls for the state to preserve local aquifers at the Legislative Building in Mineola (Photo by Luke Torrance)

State senators, local officials, and County Executive Laura Curran assembled on the steps of the Legislative Building Thursday in Mineola to call for a halt on allowing New York City to access water wells in Queens.

The city’s Department of Environmental Protection has requested a permit from the state to reactivate 68 dormant wells in Queens that would draw from Long Island’s sole source aquifer.

“Today, we are speaking in one united voice on behalf of 1.3 million residents of Nassau County,” Curran said. “We want to make it clear that no action should be taken on this permit until the first phase of a $6 million study… has been completed by the U.S. Geological Survey.”

The study would examine how reactivation could affect saltwater intrusion into the aquifers and whether it would cause a shift to the underground.

The group gathered for the press conference had all signed a letter to Basil Seggos, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner, urging him to until the first phase of the survey is completed this spring.

Although work has already been completed on the first phase of the study, the entire project would take over a year to complete and has not been completely funded.

“The funds have started to flow, but it’s not like $6 million is going to show up on your doorstep,” said Brian Schneider, the county’s deputy executive for Parks and Public Works. “The money has been showing up, and the USGS is working on the project.”

Schneider said the first phase of the study is putting together a model that shows how water moves through the ground. Future phases would fund drilling into the ground to acquire additional data.

The aquifers are important to Long Island residents because there are no rivers or lakes upon which to draw clean drinking water.

According to New York City’s Department of Environmental Conservation, the city gets almost 90 percent of its water from Catskill/Delaware and Croton watersheds in upstate New York.

“Here we live on an island surrounded by saltwater, and yet nature has given us the most amazing water supply and filtration system, our aquifers,” said Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth. “Way before Britta ever patented their water filter, Mother Nature had her own above of our aquifers.”

Bosworth and several members of the town’s council had already sent their own letter to the state, as had state Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill).

Phillips introduced a bill in June that would limit permit renewals for the city strictly to cases of sustained drought or water emergency. The measure passed the Senate but stalled in the Assembly.

In addition to elected officials, several community leaders spoke about the importance of preserving the aquifer, including Resident Forward Executive Director Mindy Germain and Adrienne Esposito, the executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

“Our message to New York City is, we love you New York, but you can’t have our water,” Esposito said. “We have grave concerns about this plan. Utilizing Long Island’s water in times of drought for New York City is literally a plan to rob Peter to pay Paul. We have no Plan B here on Long Island.”

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