Gov. Cuomo announces $6M L.I. comprehensive water quality study

02/20/2016 6:00 AM |

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a $6 million plan to comprehensively study Long Island’s water quality problems.

In a press conference with Nassau and Suffolk officials at Stony Brook University Thursday, the governor announced a series of steps that will address water quality issues that have lingered for decades on Long Island, such as an enormous plume at the former Northrup Grumman site in Nassau and smaller composting facilities that have largely gone unregulated, mostly in Suffolk County, that have recently been found to have increased levels of harmful materials.

“Rather than do this piecemeal and address individual situations,” he said, “what we propose is to do an island-wide, top-shelf study of the groundwater and of the aquifer. Let’s find out what’s going on.”

The plan will be done in concert with the U.S. Geographical Survey, both counties and Stony Brook University.

“This will be the best, most extensive study ever done to make sure we know what’s going on with the groundwater.”

The plan is expected to begin “forthwith,” he said, though no precise timeline was laid out.

The governor’s proposal is the latest in a series of long-term efforts made over the past few years to improve water quality in the county.

Last year, the state OK’d a plan that would allow East End towns to use a certain amount of its Community Preservation Funds on water quality matters — if they so choose. A referendum on the matter will be held this fall.

In early 2014, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone launched what he dubbed the “Reclaim Our Waters” initiative. The county has pilot tested alternative wastewater treatment systems and is currently in the process of finalizing which systems should be available for wider use.

The county has helped fund research to re-open shellfish beds for fishermen in the Peconic Bay. And most recently, it announced new regulations that will allow farmers to use larger fuel tanks on site in exchange for ones made with stronger material, offering grants to those who take advantage of the program.

Several layers of government also banded together recently to form the Peconic Estuary Protection Committee, an entity that is meant to get all towns within the estuary on the same page. For example, rather than all five East End towns create its own plan to manage stormwater runoff — a state requirement — the towns have all kicked in funds to do it collectively to create efficiencies.

Mr. Bellone said on Thursday that water quality is the “most important issue for us here in Suffolk County.”

“Our quality of life, our heritage — all of this is underpinned by water quality,” he said. “All of it.”

The governor said that the state also plans on contributing another $2 million to the Stony Brook University Center for Clean Water Technology.

Three main water quality issues were cited by Mr. Cuomo during his 20-minute speech: an underground plume left by Northrup Grumman in Nassau county that measures one-by-three miles wide, runoff from mulching facilities on Long Island (of which there are 65) and saltwater intrusion. All three pose a threat to the underground fresh water aquifers underneath Long Island, he said.

The state will conduct independent testing of the plume site, propose legislation to regulate composting facilities — suggested by a recent Suffolk County investigation — and conduct the comprehensive study into saltwater intrusion.

The governor also proposed a statewide water quality response team which would investigate concerns not only on Long Island, but also throughout the state. Members would include the interim head of the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Department of Health commissioner, and others.

“This is an issue we want to get ahead of rather than always responding to individual circumstances,” Mr. Cuomo said.

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