Nassau Suffolk Water Commissioners’ Association


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Water supply shutdown in Charleston. Why it can’t happen on Long Island.

February 21, 2014 – Albertson, New York ………………………….The plight of Charleston West Virginia residents has largely been rectified, but not until after some 300,000 people were without water for up to 21 days.  7,500 gallons of crude methylcyclohexane methanol or MCHM, a chemical used in coal processing, leaked from a massive storage container into the Elk River, contaminating the area’s main source of drinking water.  The spill from the Freedom Industries plant was dangerous and eye opening, but concerned Long Island residents should be aware that such an event is virtually impossible in Nassau and Suffolk Counties.

The differences lie in hydrogeology and water system management.  Charleston, West Virginia’s Capitol, is nestled in the Kanawha Valley at the confluence of the Elk and Kanawha Rivers, a center for chemical, coal, and other industries.  “Our situation here on Long Island is much different to Charleston, starting with how we get our water in the first place,” stated Howard Abbondondelo, NSWCA President and Albertson Water Commissioner.  Charleston’s water source is surface water provided by the Elk River.  In Nassau and Suffolk, our source of water is groundwater primarily drawn from the Magothy Aquifer and the depth in most locations is hundreds of feet below the ground surface.”

Surface water is highly susceptible to contamination from storm water runoff and wastewater treatment plant discharges, as well as spills and leaks of hazardous substances.  In many cases, there is a short flow travel time between the point of contamination and the sole municipal potable water intake.  Long Island’s water suppliers, including the 21 Commissioner-run districts represented by the NSWCA, directly manage a multiplicity of wells and test and monitor groundwater with regularity.

“With numerous wells spread out across the Island, the chances for a pandemic situation or shutdown as occurred in Charleston are remote,” NSWCA First Vice President and Massapequa Water Commissioner Tom Hand observed.  “By themselves, the 21 districts account for approximately 220 wells.  This is in addition to wells serving the two cities (Glen Cove and Long Beach), numerous villages, three private water companies and the Suffolk County Water Authority.  The total number of public water supply wells located throughout Nassau and Suffolk Counties is estimated to be in excess of 1,000.”

Storm-driven disasters could potentially affect delivery for Long Island residents.  However, even Superstorm Sandy did not stop water delivery.  In fact, no Commissioner-run district had an interruption in water supply during or after the storm.

“That’s due to meticulous preparation,” Massapequa Commissioner Raymond J. Averna stated.  “Our Districts are prepared for such events. We all have standby power and direct drive engines or generators to keep water flowing to homes and businesses. In addition, there are numerous interconnections to allow for the transfer of water between adjacent suppliers.  And, we all owe a great deal of gratitude to Long Island water district operators and crews who maintain our systems.”

Another reason why the likelihood for an island-wide water shutdown is slim is the testing and security that originate with concerned professional management. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stringent requirements and the New York State Department of Health (NYDOH) and the Nassau and Suffolk County Health Departments are diligent in their enforcement of regulations.  The day-in, day-out involvement by water districts on the local level, specifically monitoring, inspection and continual testing, help to ensure the cleanest and highest quality water possible.

By and large, Long Island water is of enviable quality.  However, where required, treatment is provided to achieve a supply that complies with stringent regulatory requirement. “Our aquifers constitute a vast resource that needs to be monitored carefully and managed scientifically on a daily basis,” President Abbondondelo affirmed. “This is necessary to prevent potential disasters like what happened in Charleston West Virginia. All our efforts are designed to preserve the excellent quality of our water, and to minimize costs to Long Island consumers whose daily lives depend on it.”