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The Nassau County Water Resource Board Must Halt Over-Pumping

Newsday’s [May 18, 2015] New York City shelves reopening of Queens wells that share water with Nassau County article is indeed excellent news for Nassau County. But, just because the City has backed-off, doesn’t mean the County’s water worries are over. They are far from over! The article, and the paper’s subsequent editorial [NYC and wells: Take a clear look, June 1, 2015], point directly at Nassau’s most serious water problem:

The continued over-pumping of the aquifer system within the County itself; and this self-inflicted wound has been slowly depleting the system’s limited water supply for well over a decade. At the Long Island Water Conference’s 2014 Groundwater Symposium last October, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported the freshwater-saltwater interface beneath the Island’s shoreline had migrated much further landward than it had originally anticipated. And, when asked “why,” the USGS responded it could provide no reason other than over-pumping the aquifer system. Simply, whether the County and its recently resuscitated Water Resources Board (WRB) want to acknowledge it or not, this continued over-pumping is threatening Nassau’s drinking water supply.

Recent groundwater over-pumping is documented in the County’s 2005 Department of Public Works report: Groundwater Monitoring Program 2000-2003, which discloses Nassau’s water suppliers, on average, pumped 193.5 million gallons per day during these 4 years, while the safe withdrawal maximum was, and still is, 185 gallons a day. Although this difference may seem small, roughly 3 billion gallons were over-pumped each year during this time. An even more damaging year was 2010, when Nassau’s average pumpage swelled to 203 million gallons per day; amounting to a 6.5 billion gallon deficit during that year. Just like a bank account, aquifer integrity cannot survive large deficits for very long without incurring substantial harm; and, if not corrected immediately, continued deficit pumping will undoubtedly lead to saltwater intrusion along Nassau’s coastal areas, both north and south. This outcome was predicted by much earlier studies; and still, neither the County nor NYS DEC has made any effort to end the chronic hemorrhaging.

The Water Resources Board’s newly enacted charter mandates the Board examine water supplier practices; and not just beyond the County’s borders, but inside them as well. Ironically, the WRB was reinstated in 2014, but only after the County had ignored its own obligation to support vital USGS data collection, having dropped its groundwater monitoring services twice during the preceding 10 years.

Newsday is correct: Nassau must continue to vigilantly monitor the Queens wells situation. But, the County must also get its own house in order. In this regard, the Water Resources Board must act, as it still has several crucial jobs to perform, among them: aggressively curbing water consumption; and crafting the recommendations its charter now mandates. Challenging New York City’s water plan was the right course of action. Now, the County must halt the ongoing water peril that looms from within.

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