Wednesday, March 28, 2012

DEC Approves Water Authority's Drilling Request


By KELLY CAMPBELL

After four days of hearings in September and almost eight months of deliberating by an administrative law judge, the State Department of Environmental Conservation has recommended that the Suffolk County Water Authority be allowed to drill into the deepest and oldest water-bearing layer of the Long Island aquifer system, the Lloyd Aquifer.

After the hearing last fall, state DEC Administrative Law Judge Maria E. Villa said that the SCWA should be granted a waiver from a 20-year-old moratorium disallowing drilling in the well, located near the Veteran’s Administration Hospital on Middleville Road in Northport, according to the 75-page document decision written on May 7 but released June 5.


Judge Villa determined that the SCWA proved its “just cause and extreme hardship” necessitating an exemption from the moratorium.
According to the decision report, the SCWA also argued that, because the well is located in a “coastal community, within the meaning of the statute,” the moratorium is not applicable, and the permit should be granted on that basis.” The statute provides that the moratorium applies to “all areas that are not coastal communities.” A “coastal community” is defined in Section 15-1502(1) of the New York State law to mean “those areas on Long Island where the Magother aquifer is either absent or contaminated with chlorides.” The Magother is not absent and is has levels of nitrates that are approaching very high levels not allowed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation or the U.S. Environmental Protection agency, not chlorides. The SCWA wishes to use water from the pristine Lloyd to dilute the water high in nitrates in the Magother.
Unlike the boroughs of neighboring New York City, which gets its water from the Catskills, Long Islanders do not derive our drinking water from water bodies on the surface, but rather from a vast groundwater system beneath our feet.
The groundwater system consists primarily of several aquifers—unsaturated sand and gravel deposits —separated by clay layers. These aquifers, termed the Upper Glacial on top, the Magother in the middle and the Lloyd Sands at the very bottom. The aquifers are fed or recharged by rainwater. Due to extensive development of the island over the past 50 or so years with impervious materials such as asphalt and brick, the groundwater system is also subject to contamination from above. Hence, the nitrate problem in the Magother. By diluting the water, the nitrate level will go below the ten parts per million level allowed by state and federal regulations.
While Judge Villa and DEC staff members agreed with the SCWA's position that “just cause and extreme hardship” had been shown, they disagreed with the SCWA’s contention that the well is in a coastal community.
The SCWA wishes to tap into a supply of pristine water in the Lloyd to dilute the water from the aquifer it’s currently using, the Magothy, in which nitrate levels are approaching very high levels.
Unlike the boroughs of neighboring New York City, which gets its water from the Catskills, Long Islanders do not derive our drinking water from water bodies on the surface, but rather from a vast groundwater system beneath our feet.
The groundwater system consists primarily of several aquifers—unsaturated sand and gravel deposits —separated by clay layers. These aquifers, termed the Upper Glacial on top, the Magother in the middle and the Lloyd Sands at the very bottom. The aquifers are fed or recharged by rainwater. Due to extensive development of the island over the past 50 or so years, the groundwater system is also subject to contamination from above. Hence, the Magother aquifer is approaching very high nitrate levels.
“What we’re looking to do is to go into the Lloyd and draw no more than five hundred gallons per minute,” said SCWA spokesperson Michael Stevenson in September. “Which, as wells go, is a nominal amount during peak periods of demand. That will allow us to blend that with water that is slightly higher in nitrates so that what will go out to the public water supply will meet all of the regulations and requirements.”
Dr. Sarah Meyland, a professor in the department of energy management at the New York Institute of Technology who, with a number of other groups and individuals, was granted petitioner status for the SCWA’s waiver proceedings, did not believe that the DEC should grant the waiver.
She said taking water out of the Lloyd aquifer, which should only be used as a back up or emergency source, could threaten our supply by weakening the aquifer. That, in turn, could allow saltwater to seep into the aquifer.
She feels that the SCWA should spend the money to build a nitrate removal plant. But, according to Mr. Stevenson, that is simply too expensive to both build and operate. “And there are severe environmental impacts to building and running the plant" he said. The other solution would be to build a transmission water main to bring water from the south shore. “That’s very disruptive to communities and also very expensive. So we think a much more viable alternative would be to allow us to drill a well into the Lloyd.”
In addition, he said, the moratorium on drilling into the Lloyd that was put into place in 1986 was not meant to be forever. “A moratorium by definition is temporary,” he said. “It was going to be on a temporary basis until we fully understood, researched and studied the aquifers and I would dare say that the aquifers on Long Island and Suffolk County are the most researched and studied in the world. We are confident that we can go into the Lloyd without having detrimental affects to the community or the water itself.”
Mr. Stevenson said that scientists at the Suffolk County Department of Health, the U.S. Geological Study, the DEC have “all been involved and looked at it and say this is a non-issue.”
The Northport Village Board recently approved a letter formalizing its opposition to the plan to be submitted to the DEC, which is accepting comments on the application until Friday, July 20.
“The authority's plan to blend the proposed well's pure water with the system's other water so as to reduce the high nitrate levels is a dangerously short-sighted and stop-gap solution,” the letter reads.
Responses to petitioners' comments must be received at the state DEC's office by 4 pm on Friday, July 20.
The DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis will review all input and make the final decision. For more information, go to the DEC Web site at
http://www.dec.ny.gov/index.html, or call (631) 444-0204.
Photo courtesy of the United States Geological Survey

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