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12/13/13 10:00am
12/13/2013 10:00 AM
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Newly-purchased fire hydrants may have to be sold for scrap if new federal regulations aren't changed or put on delay.

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Newly purchased fire hydrants may have to be sold for scrap if new federal regulations aren’t changed or delayed.

Stockpiles of fire hydrants previously purchased by local water districts could soon be useless following new federal standards for lead used in infrastructure that provides drinking water.

Effective Jan. 4., the maximum amount of lead allowed for use in pipes distributing drinking water will change from 8 percent to .25 percent — a new standard enacted by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The new standard is a result of the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act passed in January 2011, aimed at reducing the amount of lead in drinking water pipes and other plumbing fixtures to protect public health.

Although the act was passed nearly three years ago, the EPA only recently indicated fire hydrants would have to meet the new standard – because they can be used to provide drinking water in emergency situations – according to a release from Sen. Charles Schumer’s office.

Any hydrant installed on or after Jan. 4 would need to meet the new EPA standard, according to the guidelines.

“As soon as [the law] was passed we changed our policy to immediately order fittings that didn’t contain lead so three years from then we’d be ready – nobody had any idea they were going to include fire hydrants,” said Suffolk County Water Authority commissioner James Gaughran. “Fire hydrants are used for fire safety purposes.”

He said had the agency known three years ago, it would have prepared to comply. They agency was notified Oct. 22, when a summary of the law’s guidelines was released by the EPA, he said.

The SCWA services about 1.2 million people annually through more than 37,000 hydrants, and services most of Southold Town.

The agency’s existing stock of hydrants yet to be used numbers about 400 — valued at about $1,000 apiece — that, combined with associated fittings, totals about $450,000 of what could be unusable equipment, Mr. Gaughran said. If no exemptions are made, or delay is granted by the EPA, the existing stockpile would be sold at scrap value, he said.

“We’re certainly concerned about lead contamination getting to the drinking water, but it takes a long time,” Mr. Gaughran said. “Give the industry time to develop and manufacture the new hydrants, so that there is competition – so we don’t get rate shocked,” he said. “Who knows, they could double or triple in price.”

Riverhead Town Water District Superintendent Gary Pendzick said he only keeps about a dozen new hydrants in stock, each valued at about $1,500.

“For us it’s not that much of a consequence,” Mr. Pendzick said, adding that he hopes to be able to order equipment to retrofit the hydrants he currently has in stock.

Problem is, the supply industry hasn’t had the time to manufacture parts that meet the new EPA standard, he said.

“We called to get pricing and our supplies said they are not making retrofit kits yet,” Mr. Pendzick said.
They are not even making the hydrants yet.

At a press conference Monday, Mr. Schumer called on the EPA to exempt existing stocks of fire hydrants purchased before it released the guidelines in October, which he says will save water districts thousands of dollars.

On Dec. 2, the House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation that would add fire hydrants to the list of devices exempt from the new lead standards – which includes toilets and shower parts. Action from the Senate and presidential approval would still be needed to fix the problem for local water districts.

Mr. Gaughran, who called the problem “just another example of government bureaucracy out of control,” said the agency replaces about 200 of its roughly 3,700 hydrants each year – many of which become damaged in winter storms and car accidents, he said.

The Riverhead Water District replaces about a dozen of its 2,000 hydrants each year, Mr. Pendzick said.

While lead is rarely found in source water, it can enter tap water through the corrosion of plumbing materials, according to the EPA.

Exposure to lead can affect nearly every system in the body, and exposure above levels of 15 parts per billion can cause  delays in physical and mental development in babies and children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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11/30/13 5:00pm
11/30/2013 5:00 PM
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Suffolk County Water Authority assistant superintendent Warren Jensen.

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Suffolk County Water Authority assistant superintendent Warren Jensen.

In an effort to reduce the impact of chemicals on Long Island’s groundwater, the Suffolk County Water Authority wants to learn more about how North Fork farmers cultivate their land.

The public agency has contracted Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County to gather data from local farmers about their agricultural practices, hoping to better understand if and how the chemicals they use are reaching groundwater.

“We want to have a better handle on things like what crops are being grown and what products are being used to grow those crops,” said Carrie Meek Gallagher, chief sustainability officer for the SCWA.

A farmer’s irrigation and product storage practices can each play a role in whether or not chemicals are leeching into the groundwater, she said.

After gathering the information, Cornell scientists will make recommendations on how farming practices might be improved to protect water quality in the future, Ms. Gallagher said.

Dale Moyer, agriculture program director at the county extension said researchers are in the beginning stages of planning the study, which they hope to start sometime early next year.

“Based on what we learn and understand, we may come up with additional practices to avoid or minimize any impacts from the pesticide use,” Mr. Moyer said. “Now is the time when the farmers aren’t so busy, so there can be some conversation and discussion of practices of what’s being done and what can be done.”

He said there are many materials farmers use that do not make their way into groundwater, so researchers hope to also get a broad understanding of products working well in the area.

The program, which will cost about $5,700, will focus on farms surrounding the agency’s well field off Route 48 near Mill Lane in Peconic. The well field, one of 17 overseen by SCWA, has seven individual wells, Ms. Gallagher said.

It is one component of a long-term plan the authority is working on to continue supplying North Fork residents with safe drinking water — free of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers used in agricultural production, according to SCWA officials.

“Currently, 27 out of 56 authority supply wells on the North Fork are on treatment for pesticide-related contamination,” said SCWA chairman James Gaughran. “As the equipment needed to filter out these chemicals is extremely expensive, it’s in the best interest of our customers to take whatever steps are possible to reduce the amount of these chemicals entering the aquifer system.”

This year, SCWA installed a filter known as a granular activated carbon system, at one of the seven wells in the Peconic field. The system, which holds 10,000 pounds of carbon, costs about $750,000, not including maintenance, said Warren Jensen, an assistant superintendent with the agency.

Trace amounts of at least five different chemicals commonly used in agriculture had been detected in groundwater at the Peconic site, according to 2012 SCWA data. They include nitrates (nitrogen) and metalaxyl, two of the substances most widely contested by environmental advocates.

Many of the pesticides or fertilizers that have been detected in Long Island’s groundwater are what the agency calls legacy contaminants that are no longer available for use on Long Island, Ms. Gallagher said. Some of the detected compounds, however, are still being used in fertilizers and pesticides on Long Island.

If SCWA finds the information gathered by Cornell useful, it may extend the program to each of its additional well fields.

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11/24/12 12:00pm
11/24/2012 12:00 PM

BETH YOUNG FILE PHOTO | Willow Street in Aquebogue last month. The Suffolk County Water Authority is offering free private well testing to county residents.

The Suffolk County Water Authority announced Tuesday it will now offer free private well testings to county residents.

Water authority officials said in a press release that while the free program expires Dec. 20, it will extend the offer indefinitely for anyone who has not returned to their home by that time.

The Suffolk County Water Authority, which is not a county agency but a state public benefit corporation, said the tests will be conducted in order to make sure private wells have not been contaminated by bacteria, fuels or chlorides via saltwater intrusion during Superstorm Sandy.

Suffolk residents interested in having their water tested for free are asked to call (631) 698-9500.

Read more in the Nov. 29 issue of The Suffolk Times in both our print and electronic editions.

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05/31/12 6:00am
05/31/2012 6:00 AM

BETH YOUNG FILE PHOTO | The water authority had been planning to install a turbine similar to this one recently installed at Pindar Vineyards in Peconic.

The Suffolk County Water Authority has backed away from its plan to build a 100-kilowatt wind turbine near Laurel Lake in Laurel.

In an email to County Legislator Ed Romaine that was circulated to the media Tuesday, authority CEO Jeff Szabo said that the agency’s chairman, Jim Gaughran, “has informed me that he plans to recommend not awarding this contract at tonight’s board meeting based upon the present proposed return on investment.”

The water authority had estimated it would take between 18 and 25 years to recoup its investment in the half-million-dollar turbine.

Water authority spokesman Tim Motz confirmed after the agency’s Tuesday night meeting that the project had been shelved.

The water authority announced plans early this year to build the turbine to help power its pumping station near the lake. The authority spends $25 million on electricity each year to run some 600 wells. But neighbors quickly rallied against the proposal, citing, in part, the possible risk of fire if the turbine were installed in the middle of the woods and the large number of birds in the nature preserve surrounding the lake.

Members of the Laurel Lake Homeowners Association argued that the dirt roads on which most of the residents live are inaccessible by fire trucks. In one case, they said, a fireman had to walk in to extinguish a blaze sparked by a tree falling on live power lines.

The water authority later said it didn’t believe a fire risk existed at the site.

While it had not taken a position, the town had questioned whether the authority needed local approvals to erect the turbine. The SCWA argued that it didn’t.

But at the town’s urging the authority did seek Town Trustee permits to run new water mains out to Orient two years ago. In the wake of intense opposition from the town and Orient residents, the authority eventually dropped that project, which was to be financed largely with federal stimulus funds.

The town code permits wind turbines only at bona fide farming operations.

Supervisor Scott Russell said Wednesday that he’s glad the water authority listened to residents living near the proposed project.

“I support reliance on alternative and renewable energies and have promoted their use with codes and action,” he said. “The site selection, however, is very important and the proposed location at Laurel Lake seemed to undermine all of the hard work and cooperative efforts of the state, the county and the town in protecting and preserving that scenic and natural treasure. I do believe that the SCWA has shown a real interest in the voices and concerns of the residents in this instance and am grateful to that agency for listening to those concerns.”

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11/30/10 3:11pm
11/30/2010 3:11 PM

Carrie Meek Gallagher, the head of Suffolk County’s Department of Environment and Energy, will be taking a job as the Suffolk County Water Authority’s chief sustainability officer, a newly formed position.

The SCWA board voted unanimously to approved Ms. Gallagher for the position. She served as a county commissioner for four years.

Jeff Szabo, the authority’s chief executive officer, said the new position was created in order to focus on environmental protection initiatives, including water conservation, the use of renewable energies, recycling and waste reduction.
“Carrie is the perfect person to help us realize these goals,” he said.

The responsibilities for the new chief sustainability officer include: monitoring potential environmental threats to over 560 active wells; developing the authority’s infrastructure; implementing the authority’s land management program; furthering the authority’s energy optimization efforts; and developing detailed plans for future land easements, officials said.

“I look forward to focusing on the big-picture issues that will impact the Suffolk County Water Authority’s future, and by extension the future of all Suffolk residents,” she said.

Officials at the Suffolk County Water Authority, which is not a county agency but a state public benefit corporation, said Ms. Gallagher would start in January.

10/31/10 7:52pm
10/31/2010 7:52 PM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO Polluted water taken from a well in Calverton. A plan to use federal stimulus money to connect residents with public water was denied last week.

A plan to use $2 million in federal stimulus money to help connect a brown water-plagued Calverton neighborhood with public water was denied last week because the project doesn’t meet certain standards for stimulus funding, state officials said.

Elected officials and the Suffolk County Water Authority made a push last month to redirect the $2 million – -funds that were slated to run a water main through a 24-home Orient neighborhood called Browns Hills — to help pay for the project in Peconic Lake Estates. The 214 homes in the low- to middle-income neighborhood rely entirely on well water.

But the state determined on Oct. 13 that the Calverton project wouldn’t be eligible because, under the law, the money slated for Browns Hills must be redirected to an already approved project that had run out of funding, officials said.

Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said, “The door isn’t closed on Calverton.” And he vowed to continue his push in securing federal funding for Calverton Lake Estates.

“We are determined to keep it as a Suffolk County Water Authority project,” he said.

Officials at the Suffolk County Water Authority, which is not a county agency but a state public benefit corporation, sent a letter to Governor David Paterson Monday requesting he intervene and assist with securing the federal funding for the Calverton project.

“Despite our letter to Suffolk County Water Authority, we are working with Congressman Bishop and the federal government to see what is possible,” said Jeffrey Hammond, spokesman for the New York State Department of Health.

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This post was originally published Oct. 18, 2010