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What Every Long Islander Should Know: February 29, 2012

Farmingdale Gets Smart About Water

The Village of Farmingdale has a problem. And is smart enough to do something about it. The rest of Long Island should take note.

Farmingdale’s problem is water. It’s gotten too expensive. Plus, the village lacks the infrastructure to accommodate future needs.

Their solution: merge the water district with a neighboring water authority. The two leading contenders are the Bethpage and Suffolk County authorities. Suffolk, the front-runner, would charge a flat rate of $1.52 per 1,000 gallons and invest $4 million in infrastructure improvements. But either way, the economies of scale promise improved infrastructure and lower water bills.

This makes obvious sense. And it points up what doesn’t make sense: having a single aquifer system tapped by 60-plus local water suppliers, and managed and monitored by a dizzying array of federal, state, and local agencies.

That structure is rooted in history, not logic. It’s inefficient, and worse, it’s risky. With water management so fragmented, we’re essentially left with no one in charge of it. No one ensuring its long-term viability.

The result? Our water quality is declining fast.

That’s the finding of a draft report recently released by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. The report revealed:

• Rapid rises in the levels of harmful nitrates in our aquifers.
• Pesticides now in almost one out of every four community supply wells.
• Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) present in four times as many wells as in 1987.
• Serious degradation of our coastal environment.

That’s what we know; then there’s what we don’t know. In Nassau, given our patchwork of dozens of separate local water systems, comprehensive findings do not exist. Same aquifer, denser population: does anyone think the water is better?

We can’t risk going on this way.

• Contamination of Long Island’s sole source aquifer will devastate Long Island’s economy. Treating water after it’s contaminated is hugely expensive.

• Continued degradation of our coastal waters will decimate our fishing and tourism industries. Already a sixty-mile stretch along the south shore has been declared an impaired water body. Clam and scallop production in the Great South Bay has fallen 99 percent.

• Our effort to build an innovative economy will be blocked before it gets started. We can’t provide the necessary workforce housing without increasing densities in our downtowns; and we cannot increase densities without much better water protection and infrastructure.

It’s time to recognize water quality as an urgent threat that we must not ignore. We need to act now to establish a comprehensive, Islandwide water protection plan, and the management structure to make it work.

That means significant change, in an area where the default position is to leave things as they are. We need to be smarter than that. We need leaders from government, business, environmental and community organizations with the vision and resolve to overcome the forces of inertia.

The water we depend on doesn’t know from local jurisdictions, and will not improve on its own. Securing our future is up to us.

Nancy Rauch Douzinas is president of the Rauch Foundation, a family foundation that supports innovative programs centered on children, the environment, and regional leadership. For more information visit www.rauchfoundation.org.