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Committee awaits water quality report: Data on saltwater in wells due in spring

BARBARA ELLEN KOCH PHOTO

BARBARA ELLEN KOCH PHOTO

The initial report from the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) effort to assess Shelter Island’s water quality could be released shortly, according to Water Advisory Committee (WAC) Chairman Albert Dickson.

When the town entered into a three-year agreement with the USGS, it hoped testing would begin early last fall. But because of other commitments, the USGS said its equipment couldn’t be brought to the Island until months later.

Some testing has been done and the WAC hopes to see a report this spring.

In addition, the USGS anticipates undertaking tests of saltwater intrusion into wells on the Island sometime in April, Mr. Dickson said.

“We can’t ask them to write it down in stone,” Mr. Dickson said about a start date for the testing.

For many years, the USGS has conducted monthly tests of water quantity, but it has been decades since there was a more thorough look at what’s in the water.

Former WAC Chairman John Hallman had warned about saltwater in wells and took a strong stance on irrigation, arguing that overuse of water could result in more wells spoiled by saltwater unless the town implemented strong barriers to control irrigation.

The town allocated $14,500 for chemical testing and $13,500 for nutrient testing of well water in 2016 and $14,900 for chemical testing. In the current year’s budget there is $11,900 for nutrient testing.

To keep costs in checks, not all potential contaminants were to be tested, although an official with the USGS said samples would be kept for later analysis if the town opted to expand the study.

Saltwater intrusion and nitrogen are the major priorities, while future testing could eventually include pharmaceuticals, for example.

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