SCWA support stricter water standards
SUFFOLK COUNTY—The New York State Drinking Water Council recommended in December that the state’s Department of Health adopt the country’s strictest standards for three contaminants, some of which have been detected in Long Island’s drinking water.
Two of the contaminants, PFOA and PFOS, are used in a number of capacities, but are frequently used to make water-resistant clothing, fast-food packaging and firefighting foam, while the third, 1,4-dioxane, is used as a stabilizer in paint strippers and solvents.
The state’s proposed maximum contaminant levels are 10 parts per trillion for PFOA/PFOS and 1 part per trillion for 1,4-dioxane.
The Suffolk County Water Authority has since voiced its support for these regulations, which would require drinking water providers to regularly test for and filter out these chemicals to the allowed levels or below.
However, SCWA said a significant amount of public education would be needed on the potentially enormous treatment costs, as well as the time it will take to develop and implement treatment systems, particularly for 1,4-dioxane.
The state Department of Health estimates that 89 public facilities will require treatment for 1,4-dioxane. The state said this will run $317 million in capital costs, with an additional $13 million in annual maintenance.
More than 200 wells across Long Island will also have to be treated for 1,4-dioxane. The Long Island Water Conference estimates more than $840 million in capital costs, along with $30 million in yearly operating fees.
In addition, the state estimates 645 public water facilities will require treatment for PSOA/PSOF. The Department of Health said this will run more than $840 million in capital costs, along with an additional $45 million in annual maintenance.
The combined capital costs for reducing the three contaminants to the allowed levels will cost over $1.5 billion, with a total estimated statewide drinking water infrastructure cost exceeding $40 billion over the next 20 years, the state concluded.
In 2017, New York State passed the Clean Water Infrastructure Act, allocating $2.5 billion in funding to help address water and wastewater threats. In October, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced $200 million in grant funding to help communities throughout the state combat these chemicals in their drinking water supplies.
The Suffolk County Water Authority, the largest groundwater supplier in the county, serves about 1.2 million customers, making up the majority of Suffolk’s approximately 1.5 million residents.
Chief executive officer Jeffrey Szabo said the average SCWA customer pays $400 a year, which he described as a “relatively low [rate]” when compared to other drinking water providers in the tri-state area and across the country.
Szabo noted that New York American Water, another provider that serves about 350,000 residents in the southwestern portion of Nassau County, charges about twice as much as SCWA, while many other providers across the country charge up to four or five times as much.
“We pride ourselves on [our] rates,” Szabo said, adding that SCWA has always been “conservative” and “mindful” of various infrastructure needs. Szabo went on to say that SCWA fees will likely go up due to the large cost associated with new regulations, should they be approved in the future.
SCWA, which services 6,000 miles of water maintenance, is currently capped at receiving $3 million in state funding on a five-year rolling basis.
General counsel Timothy Hopkins said that on a per-capita basis, this is a major “discrepancy” because SCWA is being placed in the same category as a smaller water provider that services fewer people.
Szabo said he has written multiple times in the last year to the Environmental Facilities Corporation in Albany, asking about how this formula was put in place. He has not yet heard back.
In addition to raising rates, Szabo said SCWA has issued lawsuits against numerous manufacturers, including DOW Chemicals, which produce the contaminants. “Any award that we get from the lawsuit[s] would be used to help defray some of the capital cost and operating cost [for the well upgrades],” Szabo said, noting that any decision on these lawsuits is years away.
“But in the meantime, we need to put the treatment in place,” Hopkins said.
About a year ago SCWA, implemented a 1,4-dioxane removal system at one of its wells on Commercial Boulevard in the Brentwood/Central Islip area. The system, which costs around $1.5 million without operating fees, was the first of its kind in New York State.
Szabo said the state is still reviewing the data, but the results from the first year seem “optimistic.” He also mentioned that about 240 out of Long Island’s 600 wells have detections of 1,4-dioxane, which doesn’t respond to standard filtering.
This doesn’t necessarily mean the levels exceed the proposed standard, Hopkins said, adding that in order to remove 1,4-dioxane, an advanced oxidation process has to take place before the standard GAC filtering.
Szabo said SCWA has sought funding from various institutions, including Stony Brook University, in order to fund the treatment process.
“But, no matter how you slice it,” Hopkins said, “[the water treatments] are going to be expensive.”
Szabo agreed, admitting that customers will ultimately be footing a large amount of the bill.
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