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NYC's plan to pump water from Queens wells worries Nassau

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  • WORRIESINNASSAU

    newsday.com$3.99 |LI EDITIONSundayMay 25, 2014

    THE LONG ISLAND NEWSPAPER

    COPYRIGHT 2014, NEWSDAY LLC, LONG ISLAND, VOL. 74, NO. 264

    NYCplans to reopenQueenswells, promptingconcern about impact on LI groundwater

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  • BY JENNIFER BARRIOSjennifer.barrios@newsday.com

    New York City isseeking to reopendozens of itswells in Queens,pumping millions

    of gallons of drinking waterfrom the aquifers under LongIsland a move that somepolicymakers and environ-mentalists say could harmNassau Countys access to itsonly source of water.The city will be de facto

    taking Nassau water oncethey turn those wells on, saidSarah Meyland, director ofthe Center forWater Resourc-es Management at the NewYork Institute of Technologyin Old Westbury.The city plans to reopen as

    many as 52 of its 68 shutteredwells in Queens as part of itsWater for the Future pro-gram, a $1.5 billion project bythe citys Department of Envi-ronmental Protection to re-pair leaks in the citys upstateaqueduct system.While part of the aqueduct

    is closed for repairs, estimat-ed to begin in 2021 and take aslong as 10 months, the cityplans to make up the loss in

    water supply by pumpingmore than 33 million gallons aday from the aquifer systemthat lies under geographicLong Island by rehabilitatingthe currently dormant wells.The city has maintained

    state permits to operate thewells, some of which have notbeen operated for nearly twodecades, and plans to conductpublic hearings on the environ-mental impact of the pumpingthis fall, a source said. Work toreopen the wells is expected tostart in 2016.The city has yet to release

    more data on the plans effect,but documents show that it iseyeing the wells as a continued

    source of water, even after theaqueduct project is completed.The move has caused alarm

    among some inNassauCounty,who fear the citys pumpingwill cause increased saltwaterintrusion on the countys northand south shores, a shift in thedirection of undergroundplumes of contamination, and ageneral drawdown of the aqui-fer system, the sole source ofwater for Nassaus nearly 1.4million residents.There is a natural tenden-

    cy for water to want to flowfrom Nassau into Queens,Meyland said. As soon asthose wells come on, youregoing to increase the natural

    loss of water from Nassauinto the Queens part of theaquifer system.Suffolk County, which also

    relies on the aquifers as itssole source of water, wouldntlikely see an effect, since theunderground topographykeeps water in Suffolk fromflowing into Nassau, she said.State Sen. Jack Martins (R-

    Mineola)wrote to stateDepart-ment of EnvironmentalConser-vation Commissioner Joe Mar-tens last month, urging him toensure the citydoes a full analy-sis of the environmental im-pacts of its plan includingthe effect onNassauCounty.Water doesnt know politi-

    cal boundaries, Martins said.So we have these rules and re-quirements to make sure oneside doesnt take risks at the ex-pense of everyone else. And iftheres one thing were nevergoing to risk, its going to be theintegrity of our groundwaterhere on Long Island.Martins said he also asked

    the DEC to consider suspend-ing the citys permits to oper-ate the wells pending review.Its the equivalent of hav-

    ing a blank check out therethat the Department of Envi-ronmental Protection cancome and cash at any timewithout consequence, withoutconcern about the potential en-vironmental impacts on west-ern Nassau County, he said.The city did not make a rep-

    resentative available for com-ment.Ron Busciolano, superviso-

    ry hydrologist in the Coramprogram office of the U.S. Geo-logical Surveys New YorkWater Science Center, saidwhen the Queens wells wereoperating, the water levelswere lowered by as much as30 feet in some areas.A 1986 DEC report on Long

    Islands groundwater foundthat pumping at the then-ac-

    ] NYCplans to reopenwells inQueensandpumpwater fromunderNassau

    ] Critics fearmovewill harmLIgroundwater, increasesaltwater intrusiononshorelines

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    Pumping water from NYC wells, such as this one in Laurelton, Queens, could affect Nassau.

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  • tive Queens wells resulted inserious effects on the aquiferin that area and in under-ground water flow across theborder from Nassau.Those levels have rebounded

    since the pumping stopped, butresumed pumping in Queenscould cause underground con-taminants tomove and increasesaltwater intrusion on theshores, Busciolano said.I think western Nassau

    County, if they [the city] startpumping, would be the areayou would see the effect, Bus-ciolano said.Some water authorities in

    Nassau County are alarmed.Saltwater intrusion is a

    major, major concern of ourswith the activation of theQueens wells, said Greg Gra-ziano, superintendent of theWater Authority of GreatNeck North. Changing flowdirection is a concern. Theremay be plumes out there thathave not impacted our wells.The Water Authority of

    Great Neck North penned aletter last month to the DECopposing the reopening of thewells until a full environmen-tal review is done, a positionechoed by Assemb. MichelleSchimel (D-Great Neck), whoissued a statement May 1 ex-pressing her own concernsabout the project.But Michael Tierney, super-

    intendent of the Water Au-thority of Western Nassau,which the city approached in2012 under a now-abandonedproposal to purchase water

    from two Nassau providers inaddition to reopening theQueens wells, said he didntbelieve there would be an im-pact on Nassau.I really do not see the dras-

    tic issue on the water supply,Tierney said. They are nottrying to impact us or any-body else in Nassau Countyor Suffolk County.Andrew DeMartin, chair-

    man of the board of the Man-hasset-Lakeville Water Dis-trict, said he wanted to re-serve judgment until the citysplans were firmed up.Until I see the science be-

    hind what effect it will haveon the aquifers, I dont neces-sarily think theres a reactionto it, DeMartin said. I thinkthe people of Queens are al-lowed to the water under

    their property, just as the peo-ple in Nassau are.Joe Martens, commissioner

    of the DEC, one of the agen-cies that would oversee the re-opening of the wells, pledgedto monitor the situation.Were concerned any time

    theres an impact on ground-water, so were going to be in-volved, Martens said. I thinkthe city will be more than

    happy to cooperate with usand provide us all the informa-tion we feel like we need inorder to evaluate the impactson groundwater.Nassau County did not re-

    spond to a request for com-ment on the citys plans. But inFebruary 2012, Susan King,then-director of environmentalhealth programs for theNassauCounty Department of Health,wrote a four-page letter in re-sponse to the citys draft envi-ronmental impact statement, inwhich she expressed concernsabout the plan. She urged thecity to describe how it plannedto analyze the effect of itspumping on the aquifers.It would be expected to

    have a dramatic effect on thewater table elevation in easternQueens and western Nassau,King wrote. The potentialdrawdown of the water tablecould have a substantial impacttoNassauCountywater suppli-ers and should be thoroughlystudied and modeled prior toimplementation.The final environmental im-

    pact statement the city issuedin 2012 did not address the fulleffects of reopening theQueenswells; a secondenviron-mental impact statement or re-view on the well project is ex-pected to come out this fall.The question is, whats that

    impact going to look like?Mey-land said. That is a black holeright now. The citys not talk-ing about it. And theres no onein Nassau County capable ofmounting opposition to this.

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    Contractors work to build abypass tunnel to repair NYCsRondout-West Branchaqueduct tunnel in Newburgh.

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