Water Authority aiming to begin Calverton water main extension this year

The Suffolk County Water Authority is moving forward with its program to bring public water to Riverhead Town residents in the Manorville and Calverton areas.

Riverhead Town has now raised $7.39 million to extend the Riverhead Water District into Manorville and Calverton with the help of SCWA, and that’s about $2.8 million short, according to Joe Pokorny, the Water Authority’s deputy CEO for operations.

Still, SCWA officials say they are enthusiastic about getting the project underway.

“We’re looking forward to getting this going,” said SCWA chairman Patrick Halpin. “We’re going to start in a couple of months, as soon as we get the okay from regulators.”

Brookhaven Town is served by SCWA, while Riverhead Town has its own water district. However, there are 64 homes in the Riverhead Town portion of Manorville and 64 homes on the Brookhaven Town side which do not have public water, and instead rely on groundwater wells. Those wells have been found to be contaminated.

SCWA officials said that the Riverhead project doesn’t have an official start date, but they expect that it will begin in late 2023 or the first half of 2024.

The Brookhaven project is estimated to begin as early as this July, but that plan is subject to approval by state and federal entities. Brookhaven officials have said they have all the money to fund their project.

Testing has shown that many of the homes in these areas have high levels of contaminants in their drinking water. In 2022, 62 residential wells were tested and 22 of them contained carcinogens exceeding the EPA’s acceptable limits , according to officials.

The U.S. Navy, which leased the area to the Grumman Corporation from 1956 to 1996 to build and test fighter planes, has admitted to polluting areas inside the fence in Calverton, and has taken steps to clean up those areas.

However, the Navy has denied causing contamination outside the fence, where testing has shown that many property owners have contaminants in their water.

“It blows my mind how the Navy says they’re not responsible,” said Manorville homeowner Clare Bennett. “They have blatantly stated that they are not responsible for anything that happens beyond the fence,” she said.

Ms. Bennett said her water shows traces of the man-made chemicals perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). Well water serving homes in those areas has been found to contain high levels of PFOS and PFOA, which were used extensively in industrial and consumer products, like firefighting foams, since the mid-20th century, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Known as “forever chemicals,” they do not break down in the environment and seep through soil and contaminate drinking water. The toxic chemicals are harmful to fish and wildlife, and are known to cause cancer, immune disorders and other diseases in humans.

Ms. Bennett said her water also showed traces of methyl tert-butyl ether, a gasoline additive, which she believes seeped into her well water when the Grumman planes would often dump their fuel before landing. 

“In December 2016, my husband and I decided to send a sample of our water to the health department,” she said.

“I got a call about two weeks later telling me not to drink, eat, cook, or bathe with my water. The next day, the Department of Environmental Conservation showed up with 48 gallons of water and then within the next week, around Christmas time, they had installed a whole gigantic filtration system.”

Brookhaven Town invested $2 million in the project to connect the 64 homes to public water, according to its supervisor, Ed Romaine.

Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said the town has submitted grant applications and received grant money, and continues to apply for additional funding.

SCWA’s current project estimate for Riverhead is $10.2 million to lay about 20,000 square feet of water main. Officials estimate that due to the extension project, SCWA customers will see a slight increase in their annual water bills. An average family of four will see their annual water bill rise about $22, from $534 to $556. 

The largest expenditure is the cost of the water main extension, according to Mr. Pokorny, followed by the cost of installing a meter in each home. Home owners will be responsible for the cost of connecting the pipe to their homes, officials said.