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Supervisor Gerth leads charge on clean water

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Shelter Island is well on its way to protecting the town’s drinking water, according to Town Engineer John Cronin.

Guided by Supervisor Gary Gerth, Mr. Cronin has drafted an initial 17-point water resource agenda he credits Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. with refining.

What Mr. Cronin found in comparing the 17-point draft with efforts undertaken by the Water Advisory Committee (WAC) is that the volunteers on the committee were receiving monthly readings from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) on saltwater intrusion into fresh potable well water and gauging the nitrogen content in wells.

The 17-point plan is currently being reviewed by WAC members before it goes to the Town Board, Mr. DeStefano said. The draft plan states in its introduction that it aims “to guarantee continued local control of our water resources while taking full advantage of all of the resources available to us, and to keep the island population apprised of and involved in water related issues.”

The latest draft calls for:
1) Investigating ways to further optimize pumping operations for wells located near shoreline areas to minimize saltwater intrusion.

2) Funding the development of a comprehensive local groundwater model using data from prior surveys and studies along with needed engineering and hydrological consulting services to be used in future water plans.

3) Implementing conservation pricing for local public water suppliers, including Shelter Island Heights, Dering Harbor and West Neck Water and including a full description of water conservation pricing in annual water quality reports issued by public water suppliers.

4) Establishing monitoring and guidelines for best management practices to reduce peak demand for landscape irrigation and modifying the existing irrigation law.

5) Establishing guidelines for use of water by geothermal systems proven to not be harmful to the aquifer.

6) Improvement of the management of public supply wells through engagement with local public water suppliers because of their potential to negatively impact the island’s sole source of water supply.

7) Funding groundwater monitoring, contaminant identification and aquifer modeling.

8) Continuing and expanding current efforts in association with the USGS to monitor, map, and actively remediate or strategically contain groundwater contamination to minimize and prevent potential impacts to drinking water.

9) Maintaining, updating and utilizing the existing monitoring well network to gain insights into water quality through regular testing and water quantity through automated well water height measurements and data logging, while initiating a voluntary and anonymous database of private water quality test results.

10) Developing transparent reporting of all water quality and quantity information to the public using the town website and the Reporter.

11) Requiring town notifications before any pumping of water from, or injection to, the aquifer.

12) Utilizing outside agency knowledge and resources to help the Island better manage on its own the water quality and supply, including federal state and county services.

13) Encouraging reauthorization of the Long Island Commission for Aquifer Protection (LICAP) with legislation in the Suffolk County Legislature and actively use LICAP guidance in managing local aquifer resources

14) Ensuring that all water resource planning is based on sound scientific data, to eliminate rumor and conjecture.

15) Using the resources provided by the New York State Department of Health other departments that have the power to regulate and protect drinking water on a regional basis without encumbering the town with a regulatory regiment of its own.

16) Enforcing recently enacted town legislation requiring “denitrifying” of on-site sanitary waste disposal systems for all new construction of residential buildings of more than 1,500 square feet and for replacement of septic systems when required by the county health department and continuing the current rebate program for voluntary septic system replacement.

17) Understanding that much of the work of water quality and quantity management is carried out by conscientious volunteers and ensuring that such work is periodically reviewed for competency by those qualified to assess their work, and that all volunteers have clarity of their mission using new or revised mission statements or committee charges.

The supervisor is interested in getting input from several sources before finalizing the action plan, Mr. DeStefano said.

“There are a group of dedicated volunteers there,” Mr. Cronin said, speaking about the WAC.

For a committee of volunteers to bring so much expertise to their work was a surprise, Mr. Cronin said.

The need now is to link science with the practical implementation in the administrative and legislative arenas, he said.

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