Legislator Spencer’s Statement on Long Island’s Water Quality
It is clear to me that the tide of concern has changed in addressing the real, looming and seemingly unfettered threats to our drinking water and aquifer. For this I am truly grateful.
Culminating what has been years of effort by environmentalists, the County is finally releasing its updated Suffolk County Comprehensive Water Resources Management Plan. I would like to thank Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Sarah Meyland and her colleagues at Water for Long Island, Dick Amper with the Long Island Pine Barrens Society and Kevin McDonald with The Nature Conservancy. These leaders have worked diligently on programs and legislation to protect the sole source of our drinking water on Long Island while the County updated its decades-old plan. I send my gratitude and congratulations to these dogged individuals and their organizations, that have tirelessly helped legislators like me, drag the issue of water to the forefront.
Two years ago, when I was first elected to the Suffolk County Legislature, I began working with these groups. We held public hearings to identify the issues threatening our ground water and potential solutions to those threats. Hundreds of people came out. Dozens of environmental organizations, scientists, members of the public and water purveyors testified. By way of summary, working with former Nassau County Legislator Judi Bosworth, we produced a report that called for better management of our aquifer as the sensitive and invaluable resource that it is.
Nitrogen and sewage treatment were also identified as not only threats to our aquifer but to our harbors and bays. As the Chairman of the Legislature’s Health Committee, my priority has been to identify new, improved technology that would more effectively address the nitrogen problem. The Department of Health has been working to improve Suffolk County’s Sanitary Code to allow for better, improved technology to treat our waste water. These new codes will allow homeowners and developers to integrate better technology as they build or renovate.
I am grateful to County Executive Bellone for looking into reinstating staff in the Health Department’s Division of Environmental Quality. This staff is needed to continue to appropriately monitor and test our drinking water, industrial and hazardous waste sites, including potential high-risk locations like dry cleaners and underground gasoline tanks, commercial and industrial facilities. Without enough staff the County cannot properly inspect, test or monitor. The County’s own 2010 Draft Comprehensive Water Resources Management Plan stated that an addition of 24 staff is “essential in order to continue the programs and manage the County’s ground and surface waters, and potable water supply.” Instead, since 2010, the staff in the Division of Environmental Quality was reduced by 25. DEQ would now need to add 49 staff to comply with the draft plan. I look forward to seeing what the final management plan calls for!
Another big thank you goes out to Jeff Szabo and Carrie Meek-Gallagher and representatives from the Long Island Water Conference, for their help in creating the very first bi-county commission to address this. As a result the Long Island Council on Aquifer Protection was formed. The Suffolk Legislature approved our resolution in September, 2013. Late last year, the Nassau County Legislature passed its companion bill and we will be scheduling the first LICAP meeting in March, 2014. This working council will prepare and release a State of the Aquifer Report, hold public hearings, identify long-term risks to the water supply and recommend short-term measures to strengthen public water distribution systems. Again, thank you to County Executives Bellone and Mangano for prioritizing this enormously important topic. I look forward to executing Suffolk’s plan in conjunction with LICAP.
We will continue to work with Assemblyman Sweeney and Assemblyman Englebright and other state representatives to redirect NYS DEC resources to Long Island.
Cablevision/News 12 should be commended for producing its premier Series at a Glance: “What’s in the Water?” This week-long series was enormously informative and did a lot to bring the public into the discussion about the issue of our water and the alarming threats to our most important resource.
Finally, thank you to my colleagues, especially Legislator Hahn. Her leadership on the environmental front has been stellar. I want to thank her for working with me and standing by me while we continue to ensure that our ground and surface waters are protected!