Water Forum: Replace, Reduce, Increase

Strategies for protecting the health of the East End’s drinking water supply, among them replacing outdated septic systems, reducing the use of pesticides, and increasing land preservation, were presented Tuesday, at a forum hosted by the Accabonac Protection Committee, by officials from the Suffolk County Water Authority, the Suffolk Department of Health Services, the United States Geographical Survey, and the Group for the East End.

Because nitrogen from traditional systems such as septic tanks and cesspools has been tied to groundwater pollution, Bob DeLuca, president of the Group for the East End, described the need to replace those systems as “the biggest problem Islandwide for the next generation.” He urged more widespread installation of advanced-treatment septic systems, which reduce the amount of nitrogen, and more funding for rebates and grants to pay for them. Ultimately, he said, a centralized sanitation system would make the most environmental sense and be the most cost-effective. 

Amy Juchatz, a toxicologist with the Department of Health Services, said that in general, the quality of drinking water in Suffolk County was high, but that residents needed to remain vigilant. She recommended that private wells be tested every two years for levels of bacteria, pesticides, metals, and other contaminants. The public water supply, she said, is regularly tested for those substances by both the county’s Water Authority and the Health Department, which collects monthly samples. 

Christopher Schubert, a supervisory hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, provided an overview of the Long Island aquifer system and discussed some of the stresses on it, including overdevelopment. Virtually all of the drinking water in the aquifer comes from replenishment via precipitation, he said, and the quality of the soil that precipitation comes in contact with has a direct effect on the health of the groundwater.

During his presentation, Ty Fuller, the lead hydrogeologist for the county water authority, addressed water conservation. Annually, an average residential customer on the East End uses just under 130,000 gallons of public water, he said, but the residential users who consume the most use as much as 22 million gallons per year. Seventy percent of that consumption, he said, occurs between May and September, and much of it goes to irrigate lawns. The water authority maintains more than 586 wells and 237 well fields, but such high demand, he said, can endanger the supply for far more crucial uses such as firefighting.