As supervisor of the Town of North Hempstead and as a former Nassau County legislator, I have been committed to protecting our groundwater for our residents and for future generations. In 2015, I spoke out against the New York City Department of Environmental Protection’s (NYCDEP) proposal to reopen the Jamaica Wells in Queens. At that time, opponents of the city’s plan were adamant that a Long Island Groundwater Sustainability Study be completed before any permits could be issued to New York City. While that ill-conceived proposal was eventually shot down, the issue has once again raised its head in 2017. I recently had the opportunity to speak at a public hearing to formally declare my opposition to the NYCDEP’s resumed efforts to secure permits for several dozen water supply wells in Queens, prior to the completion of the Long Island Groundwater Sustainability Study.
This project, and the manner in which the NYCDEP has reapproached it, creates serious concerns for the proper management of our drinking water supplies on Long Island. It is imperative that this study is fully completed before any new permits, or permit extensions, are approved by the state. On behalf of the residents of North Hempstead, I will continue to be a voice of opposition to this project until and unless this occurs, and the study shows that NYCDEP’s water withdrawals can safely be accommodated.
When NYCDEP last attempted to reopen these wells in 2015, Long Island officials and advocates were told that they would only serve as a back-up measure as repairs were made to the city’s upstate water delivery infrastructure; at most, they would extract as many as 33-million gallons of water per day. Many of us were deeply concerned the NYCDEP was proceeding without critically important scientific data regarding the location of the saltwater and freshwater interface in our aquifer system, as well as other potential impacts of such a large and sustained withdrawal from our stressed water-supply system. Moreover, we were concerned that once the city had invested the considerable funds needed to rehabilitate the wells, it would attempt to permanently reestablish them.
In response to resounding opposition from scientists, community organizations, water suppliers, public officials and members of the public, the NYCDEP abandoned its efforts and assured us that backup water supplies would be found elsewhere. We were gratified by this response, and were thrilled last year when Governor Cuomo announced a landmark Long Island Groundwater Sustainability Study, which will provide the scientific assessment that we desperately need to properly manage and protect Long Island’s precious groundwater resources, and which will provide a road map for our future.
Now, only two years later, NYCDEP is again attempting to tap our sole source of drinking water, at considerable risk to the taxpayers of Long Island. The Draft Scope of Work for the Environmental Impact Statement for the project indicates that the NYCDEP plans to evaluate the possibilities of pumping water from Long Island’s aquifers for 10 years, up to an average of 68-million gallons per day. By comparison, the 15 water suppliers that serve the entire Town of North Hempstead pump an average of 42-million gallons per day. NYCDEP appears to have abandoned the idea of using the Queens wells as a backup supply, and instead appears to be seeking a permanent water resource; and, most concerning, NYCDEP is commencing the process before the completion of the study.
Without this study, we will have no way to authentically respond to NYCDEP’s assertions about the potential impacts to Long Island’s water supply, and we will have no way of predicting the impacts of such large, sustained withdrawals. Irreversible saltwater contamination of our coastal wells, alterations in the course of existing groundwater contamination plumes and new chemical contamination from sources in Queens could cost hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to address, and could irreparably damage our supply system.
Of course, we all support New York City’s right to invest in its infrastructure and to provide clean drinking water to its taxpayers. But we must all be cognizant that Long Island has much more to lose in the event that NYCDEP’s operations impact our sole source of drinking water and the operations of our water suppliers.
We are all guardians of Long Island’s water and it is our duty to protect the waterways and oppose measures that can have seriously negative impacts to our drinking water for years to come.