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Protecting Long Island Aquifers

With growing concerns about the sustainability of Long Island’s highly valuable aquifers, two proposals are vying for public support. The approach of a bi-county commission was discussed in last week’s paper. This week, we examine the second proposal, a Long Island Aquifer Management Compact.


Long Island Aquifer Management Compact

The idea of a water management compact is not new. There are close to 200 compacts nationwide with three currently operating in New York State.  Most compacts govern the management of surface water: water that flows through brooks, rivers and lakes that sometimes span states. 


For example, the Delaware River Basin Commission, which is a compact, regulates the stewardship of the river that supplies nearly 15 million people in the states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.


The agency monitors water quality, developing and implementing policies to deal with drought and flood management, resolving interstate disputes through mediation, educating the public about conservation and basing decisions on scientific research.


Water for Long Island, a coalition of environmental, civic, academic, good government and water professionals who have been meeting for the last five years to research how

Long Island can protect its water, is urging that the compact model be used to safeguard our aquifers.


State legislation would be required to establish a compact for Long Island.


A Long Island compact would be guided by an 11-member board of directors and a 15-member watershed advisory committee. All members would be required to have water-related backgrounds.


Director positions, five to be appointed by public officials, would have 4-year terms with a maximum of two consecutive terms. The governor would make one appointment; county executives from Nassau and Suffolk would get one appointment each and the two U.S. Senators from New York would each make an appointment. There would be five appointments made by a panel. One member would represent the Watershed Advisory Committee.


The watershed advisory committee members would all have expertise in water resources, planning, law, water management and the like. Members could have direct connections to the water industry. Candidates either affiliated with or employed by an entity regulated by the compact would be barred from board service.


Most important, the compact would set up a long-term contractual relationship with the United States Geological Survey for water monitoring, data collection and other related tasks. Working with the USGS, the compact would develop a computer model of the entire aquifer system, which would be available to researchers and the public.


Funding would come from fees paid by the water well permit holders, essentially the water companies, since individuals with home wells do not require permits. The fee would be based on the amount of water pumped, with one rate for the low-usage fall and winter seasons and one for the high-use months of spring and summer.


Dr. Sarah Meyland, director for the Center for Water Resources Management at the New York Institute of Technology, is one of the leaders in the efforts to bring the compact approach to Long Island.


 “No one agency is overseeing the management of our aquifers...and this is what we need...This is not to bash the Department of Environmental Conservation, but they have had severe cutbacks in staff and budgets and they have a broad mandate” she says. “We need a mandate that is specific to our water supply. A compact would be very hands on and action orientated...and a compact would advocate for our water rights.”


Meyland says that Long Island’s aquifers need a strong advocate now. New York City plans to re-open 50 wells in the Jamaica Water Supply System in eastern Queens. Pumping in Jamaica will affect water companies in western Nassau and may accelerate the rate of salt water intrusion, a phenomenon that ends in the closure of wells.