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Nassau, Suffolk seek to create aquifer council


Legislators in Suffolk and Nassau counties want to create a regional council focused on protecting the drinking water supplies for more than 2.8 million Long Islanders.

A resolution to create the Long Island Commission for Aquifer Protection was introduced in the Suffolk County Legislature on Tuesday, sponsored by Democrats. A similar piece of legislation is expected to be introduced to committee July 1 in Nassau County, sponsored by the Republican majority.

Legislators and advocates want to create a commission because currently no central agency monitors the water supply and recent reports show that the quality of the water in some areas has degraded.

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"Our aquifer has a lot of threats," Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport) said. "It's really to have water accountability. We share this common aquifer."

Long Island's water needs are served by a network of underground aquifers. The region's sandy soils are conducive to replenishing the water supply, but they also allow contaminants, such as nitrogen, to filter through.

Statewide, there are 1,302 Superfund sites, and it is not uncommon for such sites to be associated with groundwater contamination. Nassau County, with 121, has the largest number in the state; Suffolk is third with 89.

The legislation must go through committees, public hearings and an eventual vote of the full legislature in both counties before the commission can be established. It must be reauthorized in five years.

If approved, a nine-member board will be charged with creating an annual report on the state of the aquifer. Within three years of that report, a resources management plan -- looking at threats, regulations and recommendations -- is due.

Each county executive and legislative presiding officer will appoint one member each and each county board of health will have a representative. The Suffolk County Water Authority, Nassau-Suffolk Water Commissioners Assocation and Long Island Water Conference, a coalition of public and private water suppliers, will also have one seat apiece.

Nassau Presiding Officer Norma L. Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said the commission would be aimed at protecting residents and groundwater. "Our aquifers are one of the most vital environmental resources we have on Long Island," she said in a statement.

Spencer said there will be no cost to taxpayers. The nine board members will be volunteers and work will be done with existing staff from the member organizations.

"We think most of the work can be utilized using existing resources," Suffolk County Water Authority chief executive Jeff Szabo said. "It's sort of a shared expenditure."

Many issues related to protecting the aquifer can be more cost-effectively handled on a regional basis, Mike Boufis, chairman of the Long Island Water Conference, said in a statement. "This commission will create a means for all Long Island water suppliers to work together with regulatory agencies and other water professionals to address regional issues that up to now had to be addressed by individual water suppliers," he said.

Critics say the legislation does not go far enough.

"I think it's a good first step, but there are no action items in there to solve problems," Citizens Campaign for the Environment executive director Adrienne Esposito said. "What we don't want to happen is we study the problem to death."