Hearings to be held on Long Island State of the Aquifer Report

A graphical description of saltwater intrusion in the LICAP report.
A graphical description of saltwater intrusion in the LICAP report.

The Long Island Commission for Aquifer Protection (LICAP) will present the Commission’s new State of the Aquifer report for public input at public hearings in the upcoming week in both Nassau and Suffolk Counties.

The first of three public hearings will take place Thursday, October 13 at the William H. Rogers Legislature Building, 725 Veterans Highway in Smithtown. Hearings will also be held Monday, October 17 at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building, 1550 Franklin Avenue in Mineola and Thursday, October 20 at the Evans K. Griffing Building at the Riverhead County Center, 300 Center Drive in Riverside. All hearings will begin at 6 p.m.

The State of the Aquifer Report is an analysis of the current state of Long Island’s sole source aquifer, including quality and quantity conditions, and topics such as land use impacts, source water protection, testing and regulation as well as information about the formation of the aquifer and how the aquifer system functions.

The report, which is online here, states that there are believed to be 65 trillion gallons of water within Long Island’s aquifer system, with 300 billion gallons of water recharging the aquifer through rain each year. Nassau and Suffolk county residents and businesses pump 150 to 200 billion gallons of water out of the aquifer each year, less than the amount recharged by precipitation.

But that doesn’t mean the entire island is safe from water quantity issues. The report states that Nassau County pumps more water than is recharged each year, leading to saltwater intrusion into Nassau wells, and decreased flow in Nassau’s South Shore streams.

The relative abundance of groundwater doesn’t mean that that Long Islanders won’t benefit from conserving water.

The report states that “conserving water also conserves energy by reducing the amount of electricity needed to meet water demand. Conservation also reduces the need to construct new wells, treatment facilities, and tanks to meet demand, thus saving rate payers money. Conserving water ensures that there will be sufficient water pressure – even during peak demand periods – to fight fires. In summary, conserving water not only saves money, it ensures that there will be an adequate supply for future generations.”

The report also points to saltwater intrusion into wells as an ongoing issue for portions of the North Fork and Shelter Island.

“Suffolk County is fortunate in that development on its barrier islands is minimal, and so pumpage from wells situated on them is negligible. Additionally, because of the way that water distribution infrastructure has been built, water can be more easily transmitted in Suffolk County from inland areas to coastal areas, which minimizes pumping stresses near the coast,” according to the report. “As a result, there have been no large scale regional problems with lateral salt water intrusion in Suffolk County, although isolated areas on the North Fork and Shelter Island have seen problems.”

The report also points out that “upconing” is also occurring on the East End in isolated areas where less dense freshwater is literally sitting on top of saltwater within the aquifer, especially in Montauk. When an area vulnerable to upconing is tapped for a well, the pumping actually pulls the salt water into the well.

The Suffolk County Water Authority is aware of the areas where this is of concern, and has calculated low pumpage rates for these types of wells, designed to keep salt water from intruding.

“As long as pumpage remains relatively low, this rise should not result in any long term water quality degradation, although the levels of dissolved chlorides will usually increase somewhat during the summer,” according to the report.

In Montauk, where water demand has continued to grow for decades in an area that is highly susceptible to upconing, SCWA installed a transmission main from East Hampton more than a decade ago to reduce the demand on SCWA’s Montauk wells.

The report also states that winter salting of roads has caused marked winter and spring upticks in the chloride levels in shallow wells on the East End.

“It was discovered that the water in some recharge basins located along major highways had a salt content greater than that of the Atlantic Ocean for brief periods immediately after a snowmelt,” according to the report.

The Long Island Commission for Aquifer Protection is a bi-county entity formed in 2013 to address both quality and quantity issues facing Long Island’s aquifer system and to advocate for a coordinated, regional approach to groundwater resources management.

It includes representation from both county legislatures and county executives’ offices, county health commissioners, the Suffolk County Water Authority and the Long Island Water Conference.

LICAP has formed three subcommittees — The Water Quality Management Working Group, Water Resources Opportunities Subcommittee and the 2040 Water Resources and Infrastructure Subcommittee, all working on different goals for their Groundwater Resources Management Plan, which is to be released in 2017.

The Water Resources Opportunities Subcommittee was established to identify and quantify short-term risks to groundwater. The WROS will look at potential short-term risks facing water suppliers, treatment and distribution of potable water from the aquifer.

Some short-term risks include pending water quality regulations, increasing demand for water during the peak season, plans for additional sewering throughout Suffolk County, and groundwater contamination specific to volatile organic compounds, nitrates, perchlorate, carcinogenic volatile organic compounds, pharmaceuticals and personal care products, and salt water intrusion.

The group’s issues, risks, and recommended actions will be incorporated into LICAP’s Groundwater Resources Management Plan to be released in 2017.

The Water Quality Management Working Group has been charged with determining which water quality parameters are most critical to monitor and report on annually through LICAP, to develop a universal data reporting format and to identify the most appropriate platform for storing, analyzing and sharing the data.

The 2040 Water Resources and Infrastructure Subcommittee is charged with developing a 2040 Water Resources and Infrastructure Plan identifying long term risks to the water supply industry created by global climate change.

The 2040 WRIS will also investigate ways that public water suppliers and other agencies involved in water supply in Nassau and Suffolk Counties can address these risks, by a combination of infrastructure and facilities management, regulatory changes, and alterations in consumer water usage.

The 2040 WRIS is charged with identifying three major criteria in its investigations: specific
environmental changes that are likely to occur, including sea level rise and the resulting changes to the aquifer system and projected alterations in weather patterns and resulting effects on both aquifer recharge and consumer demand; what facility management responses will be needed to address environmental changes, such as long distance transmission of water, changes in well locations, and monitoring data requirements; and what consumer behavioral changes and regulatory requirements are necessary to achieve the responses mentioned above.

The findings of the 2040 WRIS will also be incorporated into the 2017 Groundwater Resources Management Plan.

An overview of the report will be offered at the hearings prior to public comment. The full report is online here.


Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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