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Long Island’s Drinking Water—Challenges and Solutions
What I’m less clear of is to what extent this danger—the dry-cleaning fluid tetrachloroethylene has contaminated groundwater in a nearby well field (which comes with a hefty price tag for treatment)—has reignited people’s interest in the role they have in protecting their local water supply.
The “local” supply, in this case, is the Long Island aquifer system, designated “sole source” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “It’s our only source of drinking water,” says Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, in a new video produced by GRACE. “One hundred percent of our drinking water comes from directly underneath our feet.”
That means Long Islanders should take special care of this life-sustaining resource. There isn’t an alternative supply and the region’s geography has a lot to do with that, says Esposito: “The beauty of Long Island is that we are an island. The challenge of Long Island is we are an island.”
Esposito, whose organization for decades has promoted greater awareness of local water resources, explains that our actions on the land have grave implications for the quality of our drinking water “underneath our feet.” Pesticides, fertilizers and failing septic systems are just a few sources of pollution.
“High levels of nitrogen—associated with residential septic tanks and cesspools and fertilizer runoff from agricultural lands—in the groundwater has led to the degradation of local drinking water supplies as well as Long Island’s coastal ecosystems,” according to Christopher Gobler, a professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.
What can be done to improve the quality of—and better protect—Long Island’s water supply? Watch the video to find out. Okay, here’s one of the bigger solutions, if not the biggest: Long Island needs a new management structure and it needs it now.
Contributing to Long Island’s water quality woes, and an issue touched upon in the video, is the fragmented state of management and oversight of the local water supply. Nancy Rauch Douzinas, president of the Rauch Foundation, says it best in a recent viewpoint about the tremendous benefits of a potential merger between a local water district and a neighboring water authority:
This makes obvious sense. And it points up what doesn’t make sense: having a single aquifer system tapped by 60-plus local water suppliers, and managed and monitored by a dizzying array of federal, state and local agencies.
That structure is rooted in history, not logic. It’s inefficient, and worse, it’s risky. With water management so fragmented, we’re essentially left with no one in charge of it. No one ensuring its long-term viability.
The result? Our water quality is declining fast…
It’s time to recognize water quality as an urgent threat that we must not ignore. We need to act now to establish a comprehensive, [island-wide] water protection plan, and the management structure to make it work.
Ron Busciolano, Supervisory Hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) New York Water Science Center, hits upon what is at stake when he speaks to the two primary reasons the USGS—which remains policy-neutral and only supplies the data and advice needed to make wise management decisions—takes such great interest in Long Island’s groundwater supply: 1) the health and well-being of about 2.8 million people on Long Island, and 2) the continued economic development for the region, both of which are tied to a clean, plentiful source of groundwater supply.
All Long Island communities, including mine, must take a greater interest in their local water supply. Consider this video a first step towards engaging Long Islanders about this unique aquifer system and providing ideas about how they can be better stewards of this vital resource.
For more information, click here.
Originally published at Ecocentric
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Will Sarni
It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.
The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future
We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.
"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.
One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.
Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.
Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.
These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.
We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).
We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.
We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.
Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.
Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.
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