We have all heard the phrase “Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.” Local officials fear this saying could become a reality for Port Washington.
The possibility of New York City reopening 23 water wells along the Queens-Nassau border has raised concerns about the potential damage to the Nassau County water supply, particularly for coastal communities such as Port Washington, Great Neck and Long Beach.
The city intends to pump 33 million gallons of water a day from the 23 wells, during a repair to an aqueduct in upstate New York. This is only a small portion of what the city will actually need to replace the output from the aqueduct, and it is looking at other water sources to fulfill its daily requirement.
Potentially equally troublesome, according to several local leaders, is the length of time the pumping will continue. No one knows for sure.
Nassau County is the only county in the state which gets all its drinking water from an aquifer. An aquifer is an underground pool of water. In comparison, other areas in the state obtain 94 percent of their water from the surface and only 6 percent from aquifers.
The Town of North Hempstead and Residents For a More Beautiful Port Washington (RFMBPW), along with Nassau County officials, are working towards postponing reactivation of the 23 wells until scientific facts about the effect of the additional pumping on the aquifer become available.
Judi Bosworth, North Hempstead Town Supervisor, and Mindy Germain, Executive Director of RFMBPW and Commissioner of the Port Washington Water District, sat down with Port Washington News to explain their concerns.
“Maintaining the integrity of the aquifer is a priority for the town,” says Bosworth. “We are concerned that extracting so much additional water from the aquifer may cause salt water intrusion into the water supply. Once this happens, the aquifer can no longer be used.”
In addition, said Germain, “So much additional pumping can affect water flow in the aquifer allowing toxic plumes to migrate. Thanks to a survey performed in 2000 by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), we have an active model that tells us where these plumes are and where they are moving. The information and modeling that came out of the survey enables the Port Washington Water District to be proactive in protecting its water supply.”
The 23 wells in question were closed in 2007 because of problems with the quality of the water that was being pumped from them. Remediation will be performed before the wells are put into use. RFMBPW is advocating that the wells not be reopened without a review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act.
State Senator Jack Martins has introduced legislation that supports the position of RFMBPW, requiring a full environmental study before reopening a well that has been abandoned for two years or more. If the measure passes, it will slow down the effort to reopen the wells.
Bosworth and Germain want to go a step further and commission an additional study from the USGS. A study by the USGS, an impartial scientific arm of the federal government, would produce a model that would provide local governments with scientific facts on the impact of the additional pumping.
Bosworth said that it is the need for more scientific information that is most important to enable coastal communities like Port Washington and Great Neck to protect their water supply.
“The top most layer of the aquifer has already been damaged by salt-water intrusion. We are currently tapped into the second layer of the aquifer known as Magothy. A layer of clay protects the next layer of the aquifer ‘The Lloyd.’ We feel that the Lloyd must be protected at all costs. We just don’t know how pumping an additional 33 million gallons a day out of Magothy will affect the drinkable water supply,” said Bosworth.
“We are hoping that the city will set aside a small portion of the $1.5 billion budgeted to fix its upstate aqueduct and reopen the wells to help fund a USGS study,” said Germain.
State and county officials have said that they would contribute to the cost of the study, but have not made any specific commitments.
Both Germain and Bosworth stress that smart water consumption should be an integral part of our daily lives. “Water conservation measures should be on everyone’s mind every day, not just when there is a potential problem,” said Bosworth.