Water

The Suffolk County Water Authority celebrated Drinking Water Week (May 5 to 11) with the opening of a new expansion of its state-of-the-art laboratory. The expansion will support SCWA’s mission of providing its customers with high quality drinking water.

SCWA’s water quality testing laboratory is recognized as one of the top groundwater laboratories in the nation. With the 191,047 tests performed last year producing 1.7 million results, it is at the front line of ensuring that SCWA is delivering high quality water. With a growing number of contaminants that water providers are required to test for, SCWA began an expansion of its laboratory in 2023.

The new area consolidates the collection of samples collected from SCWA’s public supply system around Suffolk County and distributes them throughout the laboratory so testing can occur for pesticides, herbicides, emerging contaminants, bacteria, metals and many other compounds. It also provides ample room within its existing laboratory to prepare for the future testing requirements. It is the laboratory’s largest expansion since it moved to its current location in Hauppauge in 1994.

SCWA Chairman Charlie Lefkowitz cut the ribbon on the new expansion, remarking “We are so proud of our state-of-the-art laboratory and the staff that makes it the finest in the nation. Wherever I go, I always talk about its importance so our customers will know the rigor and attention that goes into making sure their drinking water is of the highest quality. This expansion sets us up for the future and I am thrilled to be here to celebrate it.”

File photo by Raymond Jani

By Aramis Khosronejad

In March, nearly 50 Long Island projects, totaling $87 million, were approved in both the first and second tranche of appropriations bills that the U.S. Congress approved. 

U.S. Rep. Nick LaLota (R-NY1) was able to secure monies to carry through these projects with other local congressmen, Andrew Garbarino (R-NY2) and Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY4), and Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). 

According to LaLota, after “months of relentless advocacy, including the crafting of detailed proposals and concerted efforts directed at members of the House Appropriations Committee,” they were finally able to integrate various initiatives and final appropriations bills. 

For some time now, the water infrastructure on Long Island has been brought into question and, by extension, the quality of water available for citizens. Suffolk County has seen protests over the past year concerning the basic right each citizen has to clean water [See story, “Suffolk County Legislature recesses, blocks referendum on wastewater fund,” July 27, 2023, TBR News Media]. The conflict has evolved into a political issue. 

The FY2024 Consolidated Appropriations Act passed with “overwhelming” bipartisan support in the House. LaLota described the local funding as “a significant milestone in our commitment to serving the people of Suffolk County.”

Included are the Town of Brookhaven’s Port Jefferson Harbor dredging and wave wall construction projects, for which $1.5 million has been secured. “This funding will cover the costs of much-needed structural improvements to maintain the harbor,” LaLota said.

The town will benefit from another sum of $1.5 million for sewer treatment facility expansion secured by Garbarino. The congressman also secured $2 million for a Suffolk County sewer expansion project.

A further $1.25 million has been secured by LaLota for the Suffolk County Water Authority’s Westhampton Water Main Extension project. Old Country Road in Westhampton, which serves as an area housing 64 homes and families, has long been identified by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services for polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, contamination. An allocation of the federal monies will be used to ensure access to clean, regularly tested drinking water for affected households.

Charlie Lefkowitz, chairman of Suffolk County Water Authority, emphasized that “clean drinking water is the right of every New Yorker but making these projects affordable is critical to giving access to that resource.” 

“Thanks to this funding we will soon be able to extend high-quality public water to these families, giving them peace of mind every time they turn on the tap,” he added. 

LaLota and Lefkowitz, along with their teams, continue to “maintain our unwavering commitment to addressing water quality issues and prioritizing the well-being of every Long Island family,” LaLota explained in an email. With the passing of the Consolidated Appropriations Act and the considerable federal funding that comes with it, the future of the water infrastructure on Long Island looks brighter.

Firefighting foam erupts from fire hose a product that is a regular host of PFAS chemicals, resistant to oil and water. Pixabay photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Forever is wonderful when it comes to love, but not so much when it comes to chemicals that don’t break down and stay in the human body, accumulating over time and threatening people’s health.

In a move applauded by environmental advocates and health officials, the Environmental Protection Agency last week set a limit on the amount of so-called forever chemicals, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, called PFAS, of four parts per trillion in drinking water.

Water companies have until 2027 to complete initial monitoring to reduce chemicals that have been linked to damage to the kidney, testes, liver, thyroid, reproductive and immune system, according to the new regulations. Found in a host of products including fireman’s foam, carpets, clothing, food packaging and nonstick cookware, PFAS are resistant to oil and water.

New York State already had one of the toughest regulations in the country, as the Empire State set maximum contaminant levels of 10 parts per trillion for these chemicals in 2020.

Charles Lefkowitz, chairman of the Suffolk County Water Authority applauded the EPA for this new national standard.

The SCWA has been “preparing for this and we are well on our way to meeting all regulatory requirements within the time frame laid out by EPA,” Lefkowitz said in a statement. “Since 2020, when New York enacted its own PFAS rules, SCWA has been meeting or surpassing all standards. It has given us a great head start on the new rules, but there is still work to be done.”

Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. Gregson Pigott noted that the state’s water standards for emerging contaminants are among the most protective in the country.

“The new federal measures will have the greatest impact nationwide and will also further protect our drinking water on Long Island,” Dr. Pigott explained in an email.

Environmental groups recognized the ongoing work at the SCWA to meet these standards and appreciated the authority’s public disclosure of its testing results.

Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, described the SCWA as “ready” for this rule change and “poised for action.”

Since 2016, the SCWA installed 27 new Granular Activated Carbon treatment systems that remove PFAS from drinking water, The authority expects to install as many as 80 new GAC systems to meet the new regulations.

“We are well within our way to achieving that within the timeframe set by the EPA,” Jeff Szabo, Chief Executive Officer of SCWA, explained in an email. 

Each new system costs about $1.5 million to install. SCWA had already instituted a $20 per quarter water quality treatment charge to customers in 2020, when New York State established its PFAS limits.

SCWA has also secured $9 million from New York State for GAC treatment, which, Szabo explained, would help reduce the cost to customers.

Rates won’t be increasing in the next fiscal year. The rates, which are based on the budget, may change in future years, depending on the operating budget, a spokesman said.

SCWA tests all of its wells at least semi-annually for PFAS. If the authority finds a well with these chemicals, it retests the well at least quarterly and, in some cases will test it every month or every two weeks.

Private  wells

Esposito urged people with private wells to test their water regularly.

“People think when they have a private well, it comes from a mysteriously clean spring,” said Esposito. “They must get their wells tested. Ignorance is not bliss. If there are PFAS, they must call and report it and see if they’re eligible to get federal funds for filtration.”

Esposito estimates the cost of testing for private well water could be $200 to $250.

Carbon filtration, using a process called reverse osmosis, can remove PFAS.

The cost of installing filters depends on the home and the type of filter. Several online providers estimate a cost between $800 and $3,000, although specific costs from different providers may vary.

Residents can call the Department of Health Services Office of Water Resources at (631) 852-5810 for information on testing by either the health department or a local contract laboratory. Health department staff are also available to provide treatment recommendations.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has provided alternate water supplies to a limited number of private well owners on a case-by-case basis over the last several years.

The New York State legislature is considering proposed legislation to provide grant funding to private well owners with impacted wells to connect to public water or install treatment.

The county health department coordinates with the DEC and the state Department of Health when they receive information regarding water that exceeds PFAS containment levels.

People interested in further information about the health effects of the PFAS are urged to reach out to the New York State Department of Health.

Jaymie Meliker, Professor in the Department of Family, Population and Preventive Medicine in the Program in Public Health at Stony Brook University, added that private wells have numerous potential contaminants in part because Long Island has so many septic systems.

These wastewater systems are a source of nitrogen for waterways, leading to fish kills and can also add contaminants to drinking water.

Wastewater treatment is “vastly under resourced,” said Meliker. The county and the state need infrastructure investments.

As for PFAS, they can vary from one neighborhood to the next.

On the manufacturing side, companies are working to lower the toxins of PFAS, creating shorter chains that provide the same benefits without the negative effect on health.

Meliker was pleased that the EPA had established low level limits for these chemicals that accumulate in the human body.

The studies and concerns have been “going on for a couple of decades,” he said. “There’s enough evidence to suggest it’s prudent to do something.

By Emma Gutmann

For World Water Day on March 22, Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine (R) announced the start of the 2024 funding cycle for the county’s Water Quality Protection and Restoration Program. Under this annual program, grants are provided to eligible projects designed to protect and restore the county’s groundwater and surface water resources.

The Drinking Water Protection Program was originally approved by the electorate in 1987 and has been modified over time to bring in other issues such as land stewardship. WQPRP funding is drawn from revenues generated by the 0.25% sales tax, as detailed in Article XII of the Suffolk County Charter. This article is designated to the program for environmental protection, property tax mitigation and sewer district tax rate stabilization. 

With 11.75% of the total revenues generated each year under the 1/4% Drinking Water Protection Program, WQPRP grants funding to municipalities and nonprofit organizations for projects that fit under one of the following umbrella categories: (1) habitat restoration, reclamation and connectivity (2) non-point-source abatement and control and pollution prevention initiatives (3) no-discharge zone implementation (4) land stewardship initiatives or (5) education and outreach. 

Proposers have until June 7 to apply for an award, ranging from $50,000 to $250,000, toward planning, engineering and construction costs. Applications from last year will roll over without further action. 

According to the Suffolk County Press Office, 10 to 15 projects are approved every year, each serving to “maintain the ecosystem services that our natural aquatic environment provides.” This perennial attention to water quality is essential considering the county is enveloped by the South Shore Estuary Reserve, the Peconic Estuary and the Long Island Sound and replete with rivers, streams, tributaries, lakes and ponds.

One notable 2022 grant recipient was the Town of Brookhaven Cedar Beach Habitat Restoration. With the help of WQPRP funding, invasive plants were removed from coastal dunes and forest areas and replaced with a native plant species. This undertaking set out to harmonize the ecosystem through reduced erosion and improved nutrient/pollutant removal. The blueprint also proposed underground wildlife tunnels to provide diamondback terrapin turtles with a safer passage to their nesting grounds than treacherous Harbor Beach Road in Mount Sinai.

The WQPRP Review Committee evaluates projects with a mix of multiple choice and written responses, and also takes into account whether the project is of present priority and/or involves construction or site improvement components.

Online attendance at the Proposers Conference at 11 a.m. on April 16 will garner candidates points toward the scoring of their application. The standout projects will be recommended to the county Legislature for approval.

Although there is a wide range of eligible applicants, the priority project types for this year include wastewater treatment improvements, green stormwater infrastructure implementation, nature/nature-based infrastructure for coastal resilience, fertilizer use mitigation and habitat restoration, reclamation and connectivity. 

Projects must have a thorough work plan and budget, as well as proof of the funds that Suffolk County would be matching. The project also must be ready to commence within a year of assuming the grant and completed within three years of the agreement between the applicant and the county.

“This program is an effective tool in our ongoing work to clean and protect Suffolk County waters,” Romaine said. “It is unique in the way it brings towns, villages and the not-for-profit environmental community together with the county to work on projects that make an impact locally and regionally.”

The Suffolk County Press Office adds that everyone’s small contribution toward protecting and restoring our local fresh and saltwater systems is “crucial for preserving and benefiting the environmental, economic, aesthetic and recreational advantages afforded to our community by our unique aquatic environment.”

Information on policies, eligibility and classifying water bodies and their quality can be found by searching “WQPRP” at www.suffolkcountyny.gov, along with an application.