Long Island is facing a water crisis, with regard to both the fresh drinking water aquifers that sustain our daily lives and the salty coastal waters that enrich them. This crisis is reflected by what has been a steady, many decades-long deterioration in water quality, from excess nitrogen fueled by human sewage, to toxic plumes and spills, all while we “mine” our water supply by taking out more water than is being replenished. Simply put, while several dozen laws and regulations are on the books to protect water quality, the evidence indicates that we are failing to adequately protect the waters and waterways that make Long Island the special place that it is.
For the past few years, Seatuck has been leading the push to make water reuse a key strategy to help reverse this failure. As the name suggests water reuse turns wastewater from a liability into an asset, improving water quality while reducing pumping demands on the drinking water aquifers. Instead of dumping it into the nearest stream or bay, the water reuse strategy puts grey water and treated wastewater towards another beneficial purpose so it can recharge back into the aquifer.
This reuse can simultaneously achieve water quality and quantity benefits, as evidenced by one of two water reuse projects on Long Island. This project involves Suffolk County’s Indian Island Golf Course in Riverhead and the adjacent Town of Riverhead Sewage Treatment Plant. This initiative, which began operating in 2016, sends highly treated effluent to the golf course to irrigate the grass. The benefits? According to consulting engineers, two thousand four hundred less pounds of nitrogen discharged annually into Peconic Bay and 88 million less gallons of water pumped from the stressed underlying aquifers.
This project is a mere drop in the bucket regarding water reuse’s potential here. For example, in Suffolk County there are several dozen sewage treatment plants and golf courses within one-half mile of each other, not to mention many other possible targets for wastewater. The comprehensive implementation of water reuse projects could achieve significantly reduced nitrogen loadings to coastal waters and our drinking water aquifer and billions of gallons of fresh water never pumped from the stressed aquifers, helping to protect the flow in streams and rivers.
To guide implementation of water reuse, Seatuck called on environmental leaders in 2018 to fund an island-wide feasibility study or roadmap which would prioritize reuse projects based on financial, logistical, and environmental criteria. This blueprint would allow us, in a thoughtful way, to advance the most effective reuse projects providing the greatest water management benefits. More than 2 billion gallons of water are currently reused each day in the United States, most notably in California, Florida and the arid Southwest (where “purple pipes” are used to carry reused water and designated water recycling efforts). It’s time we took a major step forward in managing and protecting our vulnerable coastal waters and drinking water supply by adding Long Island to this list.
Seatuck will continue it’s push for the aggressive implementation of water reuse strategies. In too many places we are simply mining our underground water supply by pumping out more than is being replenished. This lowers the water table and causes two major problems.
First, it allows salt water to push further inland. This “salt water intrusion,” as it’s known, ruins drinking supply wells and can require expensive new drilling. Second, on an island where our wetlands, river, streams and ponds are fed by groundwater, lowering of the water table has devastating impacts on important freshwater habitat and the wildlife species that depend on it. In some places where the water table has been significantly reduced, streams literally run dry and wetlands cease to exist. The water quantity problem is most acute in Nassau County (where there’s been more historic demand on the aquifers), but it is increasingly a problem for Suffolk County as well, especially with plans for expanded sewers.
An important strategy for combating the water crisis is water reuse. As the name suggests, water reuse puts treated effluent from sewage treatment plants to another beneficial purpose instead of dumping it into our bays or the ocean. It’s literally the process of turning treated wastewater from a liability into an asset.
The process of reusing wastewater simultaneously achieves water quality and quantity benefits. The comprehensive implementation of water reuse would significantly reduce nitrogen impacts to local waterways. At the same time, it would also reduce the demand on our already stressed aquifers, which would help ensure ecologically necessary water levels are maintained in our rivers and streams. More than 2.3 billion gallons of water are currently reused every day in the United States, most notably in California, Florida and the arid Southwest. Seatuck will continue advocating that we take a major step forward in managing and protecting our waters by adding Long Island to this list.
– Link to DEC “golf course opportunities” map: https://arcg.is/1KmDaW0
– DEC water reuse info: https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/120987.html
– EPA water reuse info: https://www.epa.gov/waterreuse/basic-information-about-water-reuse
– EPA Water Reuse Action Plan: https://www.epa.gov/waterreuse/water-reuse-action-plan