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« SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - What's going on with the NYS DEC? | Main | Suffolk Closeup - Jerry Nadler Great Intellect And Presidential Nemesis »

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - We Need To Know Where Sewered Outflow Will Go


By Karl Grossman

There’s no Valley Stream any longer in Valley Stream. “It’s gone—Valley Stream is now a stream bed,” Professor Sarah J. Meyland, an expert on water on Long Island, was saying last week. The drying up of the stream that gave Valley Stream its name—and the diminishment of “almost all” the streams in Nassau County—is the result of Nassau sending the wastewater from its sewer plants out into the ocean and bays, the Long Island Sound and other estuaries.

And this could be what will happen in Suffolk County, she warns.

Professor Meyland “is a water specialist with a background in groundwater protection, water resources management and environmental law” as states her biography at the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury where she is associate professor in the Department of Environmental Technology and Sustainability. She was co-executive director of the New York State Legislative Commission on Water Resource Needs of Long Island. She also was watershed director for the Suffolk County Water Authority. 

Her numerous degrees include a master’s of science in water resource management from Texas A&M University; bachelor’s degrees in both marine biology and geological oceanography from Humboldt State University; and a law degree from St. John’s University School of Law. She has developed a number of environmental laws for New York State and the federal government.

Streams on Long Island “are fed by groundwater flow. In Nassau, when the water table dropped, water could no longer reach streams,” Ms. Meyland explains. In the 1960s and 70s, with the funding from the Clean Water Act, “wholesale sewering was happening in Nassau County and the county would not allow any land-based wastewater discharge. Every sewer plant in Nassau sends outfall into the Atlantic, bays, the Long Island Sound and other estuaries. And this led to a lowering of the water table.”

In Nassau, “they knew that was going to be the outcome in advance. Some 90 percent of the county is sewered with the wastewater not returned to the aquifer system. The engineers knew what the impacts of this would be to the underground water table, but the public didn’t know and the public wasn’t consulted.”

Will this be the fate of Suffolk County where there has also been an emphasis—increased in recent years—on sending outfall of wastewater from Suffolk’s sewage systems into the Atlantic, bays, the Sound and other estuaries?

In Suffolk in the 1970s, the Southwest Sewer District was constructed with a sewage plant at Bergen Point in West Babylon built to discharge 30 million gallons a day of wastewater into the Atlantic. The administration of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has been pushing to pipe more wastewater to the plant and out to sea including from a massive project called the “Ronkonkoma Hub”—although Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine had called instead for full treatment of that wastewater and its recharge back into the ground to replenish the underground water table.

Some 30 percent of Suffolk is covered by sewers—the remaining 70% utilizes cesspools. More than half of the sewer systems utilize recharge back into the ground—but these are small private plants, mainly built for housing developments.

Larger sewer plants in Suffolk utilize outfall. 

On the western portion of Long Island, outfall of wastewater was how Brooklyn lost the use of its groundwater as a potable water source. Long Island is designated a “sole source aquifer” region—its underground water table, the aquifers below, its water source.

The loss for Brooklyn of use of groundwater for potable water was caused by outfall and consequent entry into the lowered water table of saltwater, explains Professor Meyland. The loss in Queens came because of “over-pumping.” With the lowering of the water table, saltwater intrusion occurred destroying the aquifer as a potable water source. Because of the “massive damage to the aquifer system in Brooklyn and Queens,” they needed to receive potable water from the reservoir system constructed upstate a century and more ago with conduits bringing potable water down to New York City.

How will central and eastern Long Island get potable water if the aquifer system on which they depend is destroyed as a source of potable water? “The upstate reservoirs are at capacity,” said Professor Meyland. “New York City is only one drought away from being in a serious crisis. And the city is expecting one million additional people by the end of the century.” There’s no water available from this upstate system for Nassau and Suffolk, she said.

Professor Meyland, a Huntington resident, says that if serious damage is done to the underground supply of potable water for Nassau and Suffolk: “We’re out of luck.”


Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.                                       

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